Lecture Series on Roots of Sectarian Conflict
New York: March 7, 2002
Atul Kohli Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University
Lecture is followed by question and answer session.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. First of all let me introduce myself. My name is Robert Radtke. I am Vice President of Policy and Business Programs here at the Asia Society and it’s my pleasure to welcome you here tonight for the fifth and final lecture in a series entitled “Roots of Sectarian Conflict.” This is a series of programs the Asia Society cosponsored with The Center of Religious Inquiry of St. Bartholomew’s Church and we started on September 10, as it would have it, with Senator George Mitchell talking about the peace process in Northern Ireland, Dennis Ross who then spoke about the Middle East, and we have been honored to have three speakers here at the Asia Society focusing first on Indonesia with Sidney Jones, and Sri Lanka last week with E. Valentine Daniel. Tonight we are lucky to have Atul Kohli who will be speaking about India. Now without further ado, let me welcome Mr. Farooq Kathwari to the podium who will introduce tonight’s speaker. Thank you very much.
Good evening. I am very pleased to welcome all of you here on behalf of Asia Society and the Center for Religious Inquiry at St. Bartholomew’s Church. The subject of today’s discussion is that ethnic and communal violence in India is extremely important and relevant today. The communal violence in the Gujurat zstate of India last week raises many issues. We have recently had insightful articles and commentaries published in The New York Times on this subject. On February 25, 2002 Pankaj Mishra’s op-ed entitled, “Hinduism’s Political Resurgence” and March 6, 2002, Shashi Tharoor’s article entitled, “India’s Past Becomes a Weapon,” are very relevant for our discussion today.
Now we are very pleased today to have Professor Atul Kohli who has a distinguished background. Currently a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, he is the author of The State of Poverty in India and Democracy and Discontent: India’s Growing Crisis of Governability and the editor of five volumes, The State and Development in the Third World, India’s Democracy, State Power and Social Forces: Domination and Transformation in the Third World, Community Conflict and the State in India, and The Success of India’s Democracy. His current research project is a comparative analysis of the politics of industrialization in South Korea, Brazil, India, and Nigeria. He is the editor of World Politics and has been the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, Ford Foundation, and Russell Sage Foundation. He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. And before I welcome Professor Kohli, I will briefly like to give you the format of our program today. Professor Kohli will be talking for about 30 minutes and at that time we will open up for questions and his comments. Please welcome Professor Kohli.
Thank you very much. In the 30 or 35 minutes I will talk, I will focus on the two most recent instances of ethnic and communal violence in India that have dominated the news media, that is to say Kashmir and the Hindu-Muslim conflict in Gujarat. I will situate these conflictual situations in the broader political and historical contexts and suggest some general implications. Since the time is limited, many details and some nuances will get ignored in the main presentation, I will be happy to address related concerns in the question and answer period. Let me begin by making four general observations about ethnic and communal violence in India that in a sense are the main message of the talk. After that, I will talk more specifically about Kashmir and Gujarat and then conclude again with some general observations.
The first general observation--creating a functioning democracy in a setting of a poor multicultural democracy is a very difficult task, which very few countries have succeeded. For the most part, India has done an amazingly good job. Unfortunately, the Hindu-Muslim cleavage has proven to be fairly difficult to tackle even in India’s considerably successful democracy. The current tensions have to be viewed within this broader perspective. The second general point, while some instances of ethnic and communal violence in India are produced by, let’s call them “crazed fanatical true believers”, for the most part, conflict and violence is planned, purposive, and more often than not, violence is aimed at achieving political objectives. The third general point, the main political goal that ethnic and communal violence seeks to achieve is power and, of course, resources that come with power in a place like India.
The reason that the normal urge for greater power by groups and individuals turns violent is because political institutions don’t always work the way they are supposed to work. Thus, for example, sometimes people lose faith in the integrity of elections and take to streets. Or because political parties are weak, leaders seek to create quick majority coalitions by mobilizing around a motive and even explosive issues. Or because the police force does not work very well, mobilized groups kill each other and the state is unable to mediate and deal with the forces it has unleashed itself. The last general comment has to do with the prospects of conflict resolution. If the roots of the ethnic and communal violence in India are mainly political, they are also amenable to political solutions. Once conflict is at its advanced stage, resolution generally requires some combination of repression and accommodation. Repression requires the capacity by the government, especially in a democratic government, to exercise legitimate coercion, and accommodation in turn requires democratic sensibilities, especially among the top elite. Fortunately, India has both of these political resources. And thus, at least in principal, it ought to be possible to resolve most ethnic conflicts in India. Those are the four general points. Now let me focus much more specifically on what has been in the news lately, namely the conflicts of Kashmir and Gujarat in that order and then I will come back in the conclusion to address some general points.
First the problems in Kashmir. Kashmir is back in the headlines because of the developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But, of course, the conflict involving Muslim separatists of Kashmir and the Indian government is now more than a decade old. It is a very sad situation. The number of people killed is hard to determine but fair estimates suggest that nearly 50,000 may have died over the last 10-12 years and there is no early end in sight. Basic details of the conflict are probably known to all of you. In my comments on the situation, I also want to avoid getting too involved in who has the moral high ground in this conflict. In my assessment of the situation, this is a conflict without heroes. Indian government, Pakistani government, and Kashmir militants have all played nasty tricks with grave human consequences. Even outsiders like the United States and China have not always been very helpful.
The solution to conflict will come not from who is more right or wrong, but mainly at this stage from realpolitik considerations, whether you like it or not. I may not like it either, but that is what is going to happen. The sooner all the parties of the conflict recognize this, the sooner human suffering can be brought to an end. I will return to this point as I finish my remarks on Kashmir. Very briefly, the analysis of conflict as I see it. Kashmir, as most of you know, is India’s northern most state with the population of some 12 million people, about 60 percent Muslim. Muslims are concentrated in the valley around Srinagar as you can see on the map, Hindus are concentrated in the south around Jammu, and the Buddhists of Ladakh in the east in the mountains. While one can trace the origins of the conflict back to the creation of India and Pakistan, and media often does it, the fact is between 1950 and the mid 1980s, that is to say for as many as 35 years, there was very little militancy to speak of. Sheikh Abdullah, the old ruler of Kashmir, and the Nehru Gandhi family struck a working arrangement that underlined the old Kashmiri culture of Muslim elites and Hindu Pandit elites rather well. This gave Kashmiris considerable autonomy within the Indian federation and a sense to Kashmiri people, especially Muslims, that they were ruled by their own leaders. All this changed over the 1980s, and this is critical to understand why things have gone so out of control in the 1990s and today.
There are 2 major underlying factors that brought about significant changes in the 1980s--one is national and one is international. First, the national. As Indira Gandhi centralized the Indian policy, the forceful dismissal of Kashmir’s chief minister at that time, Farooq Abdullah (son of Sheikh Abdullah) in 1983 and the rigged elections of 1987 were turning points. You don’t have to know the history to understand the main point I am trying to develop. The main point is that there were non-democratic, anti-democratic centralizing antics undertaken by the Indian government under Mrs. Gandhi. And this made a new generation of younger Muslims in Kashmir feel that they could not control their own political destinies.
As disaffection grew, the Indian state treated the problem mainly in terms of law and order. Security forces used brute force and this further pushed young Kashmiri Muslims into militancy. So this is one part of what changed in the 1980s. The other thing that changed had to do with the international situation around Kashmir. What changed was the situation in neighboring Pakistan. It changed because the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and what had happened in that process of defeating Soviet Union in Afghanistan was that the United States had built up Pakistani intelligence services as an instrument to fight the Soviets by linking up with various “jihadi” groups. With the defeat of the Russians, this built up troublemaking capacity of Pakistani intelligence service and jihadis became, so to speak, freely available and seeking a place to unleash itself upon and they turned upon Kashmir as part of an overall foreign-policy shift in Pakistan. So the two changes that come together in the late 1980s are disaffected Muslim Kashmiris and the ISI-jihadi nexus. They come together and they forge an alliance that has basically been behind much of the conflict in Kashmir.
During much of the 1990s, indigenous Kashmiri Muslims were the main political actors demanding greater power and autonomy, pushing Kashmiri Pandits out of the valley, an ethnic cleansing of sorts, which, much to my surprise, has not evoked as much political attention, even in India, as it ought to have. And confronting the massive security forces that India employed in the region. Indian security forces repressed Kashmiri militants rather brutally. And, had these militants not been supported by the outside, as was the case in Punjab for example, the conflict would have probably petered out. Over the last 5 to 6 years however, numerous jihadis, some Kashmiri and some not, most trained and armed in Afghanistan or Pakistan, have joined the fray. The situation by now is deeply tragic. Most Kashmiri Muslims don’t trust the Indian government and would probably opt for a sovereign state. Neither India nor Pakistan will let this happen. India wishes that the coming state elections in a few months will create a political resolution, or will at least make a dent, this is not likely. Pakistanis hope that Indian Kashmir will become a party of Pakistan is totally quixotic. Enormous resources are being put on a goal that will never be achieved.
Irrespective of who is right or who is wrong, the only realistic solution to the Kashmir problem will have the three following ingredients: first, it will more or less formalize the existing line of control between India and Pakistan as a legitimate international border; second, Pakistan will have to eventually exercise some limits on its support for jihadis; and third, the Indian government will have to offer deep concessions to all the three regions of Kashmir--the more Hindu region, the Muslim region and the Ladakh region, but especially the Muslim region, where most of the alienation exists. And these concessions will allow these regions to govern themselves much more autonomously within the Indian federation. So, in a sense, everybody will have to make these concessions and accommodate the real forces on the ground. The military balance is in favor of India, the Muslims within Kashmir are mobilized, these facts have to be taken into account in any eventual. It is far too brief a statement and I have touched on the main points. I will be happy to go into any level of details as suits the audience.
Let me turn my attention to Gujarat which is the news all last week. The Hindu Muslim riots of the last week have probably taken 1000 lives. The government estimates 600, safe bet in India to jump that by some number. Mostly Muslims were burnt and murdered by Hindu zealots. This too is terribly sad and tragic, especially because it need not have been so. This was avoidable. Yes, the Muslim attack on Hindu militants on the train was dastardly and inexcusable. But given that attack, the government should have done what governments do. Two things, one to anticipate that there will be reprisals and go out there and make sure those reprisals are not carried out. And second, focus your energy on apprehending the criminals and bring them to justice. The state did not undertake these functions. And the result has been a grotesque tragedy. The roots of the conflict, the roots of the Hindu-Muslim violence, are both within Gujarat and in the national situation. Let me very briefly speak to both of them.
First, the national situation. The main thing that is going on here is that India’s ruling Hindu party, BJP, is losing popularity. Those of you who know Indian political situation know that within the BJP that there are both more extreme and more moderate tendencies. India’s Prime Minister, Mr. Vajpayee, represents the more moderate tendencies and then there are other groups even within the party and especially those affiliated to the party that represent the more extreme tendencies. Whenever BJP tends to lose popularity, it generally strengthens the hands of the more militant supporters of the BJP. This happens because they are better organized, they are capable of mobilizing. The moderate folks came into power riding the extreme tiger in 1992. Now, as the leaders smell electoral losses, the recent elections in four states are a clear sign, now the only major state the BJP controls is Gujarat. Nearly all other states, while Congress is back in power in about 12 different states, BJP is losing power. So as they smell electoral losses, the question is, do they really have a winning strategy that can improve open mobilizing anti-Muslim-Hindu cohesion as a source of victory. I doubt it. So the national leadership of the BJP has really not been as decisive as it could have been given what happened.
Imagine the reverse situation, if Gujarat was ruled by Congress and had Muslims unleashed the revenge on Hindus. If you know Indian politics, it would not take much imagination to realize what would have happened. President rule would have been imposed, government would have been blamed as incompetent and unable to stop violence and army would have immediately been sent to curb the violence. None of this happened. The main drama is, of course, within Gujarat. So let me speak a little but about Gujarat. Gujarat, ironically, is one of India’s most industrialized and prosperous states so any flip understanding that this is all rooted in poverty has to be carefully modified. It is also home of Mahatma Gandhi. Unfortunately, it also has a considerable history of political violence; especially riots and violence calculated to bring about desired political goals. This has been a pattern in Gujarat for the last 30 to 40 years.
In 1970s, for those of you who know the region or Indian politics, in 1970s there was the Nav Nirman movement that eventually brought about the Emergency in India. In the 1980s, and I want spend an extra minute on this, there were the anti-Solanki riots by Patidars, this is getting too specific for those of you who don’t know Indian politics, but let me focus on this because this is really quite important for understanding what is going on today. And this was a turning point, like I spoke about a turning point in Kashmir, the 1980s was again a turning point in Gujarat politics. What happened was, again Mrs. Gandhi was part of the political drama, a political coalition was established by the Congress party, by Indira Gandhi’s supporters, that essentially excluded the dominant caste of the state, the Patidars. It was instead a coalition of a variety of middling and underprivileged groups, it was called the KHAM alliance, an alliance of Kshatriyas, Adivasis, Harijans, and Muslims. And this was a very effective coalition that displaced the old ruling forces in the state of Gujarat, especially the Patidars. Now in the 1980s, what happens is when Mrs. Gandhi’s Solanki, who runs Gujarat wins popular support and comes to power in the state, the Patidars, especially the Patidar youth, unleash a lot of violence against so-called reservation policies. And the whole state is mired in violence over and over again under the rubric of anti-reservation riots. And why is this important?
The importance is that for an alternate political formation to emerge, a different winning political formula had to be created. And BJP’s winning electoral formula was to hive off the Muslims and use anti-Muslim to create a Hindu coalition, including the Patidars as well as other Hindu lower and middling castes. And so the BJP did this extremely successfully and so over the 1990s, once the BJP comes to power by having created an alternate electoral coalition which bridges the gaps, or cleavages, that had emerged across Hindu castes and creates them into a much more coherent political group by mobilizing them against Muslims. And this happens especially since post-Ayodhya (when militant Hindus demolished the 16th-century Babri mosque) in 1992.
The last decade, to be fair to the BJP, was relatively calm in Gujarat, but what was going on in Gujarat all through this decade was that the overall situation was getting highly communalized. All the conflict about beauty pageants and a variety of issues concerning Muslim personal laws one could go on and on. And in this charged communalized situation that has been created, the train attack absolutely should not have happened, but once it did, the consequences ought to have been understood by the leadership, it was not an impossible situation. If you ruled Gujarat and you understand the politics and you understand the main strategy has been to communalize the situation, one should have known Hindu violence and reprisals would be unleashed. The fact, however, is the government stood by and allowed the mayhem to proceed. And this inaction on the part of the government, to my mind, was politically motivated. It is a strategy to maintain a Hindu majority coalition. And any action that appeared to be soft on Muslims would have hurt the strength of this precarious but increasingly firmer coalition. I could, of course, talk in greater detail about both of these but let me move towards concluding the talk. I think you have got the gist of what I think happened in these situations.
Ethnic and communal violence dots India’s political landscape. However, these have to be kept in perspective. For the most part, most ethnic and communal demands have been accommodated. And considering the variety of groups that exist, that is not a minor political accomplishment. The Hindu Muslim conflict has proven especially difficult to accommodate in India. India was born of that conflict and traces of that linger. Most ethnic and communal violence in India is politically motivated. It is rationally orchestrated and it is implemented in a planned way. I have studies some of these things and the results are not pleasant. If you see people who have died in riots, for example, you will notice that the knife wounds are extremely clearly pointed at the heart, only trained killers are capable of this. If you look at riots, you wonder how in 10 minutes time 3 to 4 truckloads full of petroleum is delivered in a country where people can wait quite a long time to get petrol in their car. How hundreds of people can be mobilized in buses, ready with armed instruments. So there is a planned element to the whole thing that should not be underestimated. It is not crazy fanatical behavior.
I have only discussed two of the most recent newsworthy incidents, but numerous other cases can similarly be discussed. The Kashmir situation, for example, shares some important traits with what happened in Tamil Nadu in the 1950s and 1960s, the Tamil Nationalist Movement. And of course with Punjab in the 1980s. The big difference of course is the internationalized element of the Kashmir issue. The Hindu Muslim riots share much not only with other Hindu Muslim riots, but also with a variety of caste conflicts that dot India’s countryside as well as cities sometimes. The main message of my talk, then is, that ethnic violence in India comes about because ethnic and communal groups are mobilized by elites to achieve political ends. When political institutions do not function adequately, the normal political process of mobilization turns violent. And to conclude, therefore, I want to say that improving the credibility of elections, for example in Kashmir, avoiding mobilizing along explosive lines, strengthening the role of issue oriented parties, making timely concessions to mobilized groups before it becomes a highly conflictual situation, and improving the police are all institutional reforms that can further mitigate ethnic and communal violence in India. Thank you.
Question and Answer Session
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
My name is Swati Apti. I was wondering if you could elaborate on the notion of using concessions as a solution to sectarian conflict, particularly because a lot of the BJP support has come from appeasing to the Hindu notion that sufficient concessions have already been made to the Muslims. So how does one stop that from being a double edged sword in the hands of fundamentalists and yet make the right concessions?
It’s a problem. You can ask the same question-why should Pakistan withdraw its support of the militants? These are problems and that’s why the conflict has not been receded because at this point the electoral incentives and calculations of ruling groups on both sides don’t allow what eventually has to be done for the conflict to be alleviated. To be fair, to be non-partisan in the Indian context, the Congress party had not done much better. So, it is not only BJP’s communalism which has made things worse. A lot of these things originated in Mrs. Gandhi’s time. And it was she who started centralizing and undermining constitutional autonomy of Kashmir as well as getting rid of Farooq Abdullah who had been democratically elected in 1981 or 1982. But he was fired in 1983 or 1984 when when J. Mohan was the governor if I am not mistaken about my history. So, it is not only the BJP’s communalism, it’s the center’s urge to be more centralizing than it ought to be in Kashmir which I think is a problem.
Hello my name is Michelle. I am a student at Columbia. I was hoping that you could speak a little more about the state elections in Kashmir. You said that there were upcoming elections. And I wanted to know about the history of those elections and hasn’t Kashmiri citizens been demanding that this take place for decades. And maybe my information is wrong, but hasn’t the Indian government prevented them from taking place in the past.
Are you just asking about regular elections or are you asking about the plebescite on Kashmiri sovereignty. The Indian government has not allowed the plebescite to take place from the very beginning. The legal reasoning they gave was the condition under which they would call those elections were if Pakistan withdrew back to pre-war borders away from the line of control. And since Pakistan did not do it, the Indian government said they would not allow the plebescite. The real politik reasons probably was that the Indian government was afraid most Muslims would vote not to stay in India and they did not want to allow that.
As far as the new internal and external forces, first with the internal forces how do you think the Ayodhya situation is going to play out? And as far as the external forces with the recent realignments, how much is President Musharaf required to allow the ISI have a free hand in Kashmir so as they won’t turn against him and how will China be involved?
That is a lot and I am not sure I know the answers to all of those questions. I certainly don’t have much understanding of Chinese leadership, so I am not even going to pretend to try an answer things I don’t know. With Ayodhya, I have some intuitive sensibilities about. My gut instinct is that the BJP leadership will not allow, will find some face saving way, of delaying the building of the temple on that side. To allow the temple to be built is really inviting a lot of political mayhem. The size of that mayhem cannot benefit them politically. So just for rational electoral calculations, forget whether there is high mindedness there or not, for sheer self interest having that much turmoil in the country can only make the government look bad. And therefore I think they will find a way to deal with the VHP. The VHP is organized, mobilized and committed to build the temple, but there are only a few thousand people. And any government that can put a million people on a border, a million troops on a border in 10 days, can control the VHP. So if they choose to control the VHP, they can control it. My gut tells me that they will choose to do so whether they do it or not. I do not want to try to answer President Musharaff’s inclinations. I do not know the man. I have never interviewed him. I have not interviewed people who are around him. So I do not have a gut feeling for it.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My name is Anish and I live in Manhattan. Your analysis has been extremely clear but the clarity has raised enormous concerns. It’s the implication, if I read you right, in this last comment you reinforced it, is really that the polity that is supposed to manage and govern all of this is directly involved in instigating and actually causing this happen for their benefit. The prognosis of this effect is that this is a situation that is not likely to change suddenly in the near future and certainly not if not left to its own recourse. What is your prognosis on that?
My prognosis is not as pessimistic. That’s why I began with a proposition that most conflicts in India get resolved and I ended by trying to resituate these conflicts in an overall picture in which sensible leaders do both repression and concessions. It does not mean that mistakes have not been done. But the state has both governed and made democratic concessions. Sometimes it hasn’t and then it has paid dearly. So, let’s keep it in perspective is what I would suggest. My analysis is aimed at highlighting when things go wrong. I have not spent 30 minutes talking about where things are working just fine. Had I done that, which is the majority of the country, a very different picture would have emerged. That is why it is very important when you are talking about trouble not to take analysis of trouble to apply to the whole situation. And that is why I began with a cautionary remark and concluded with a cautionary remark that these have to be viewed in a overall situation which compared to most developing countries is not half bad.
My name is Marcus Reitenberg. Has population growth or demographic change contributed to the underlying pressures leading to some of this violence.
Short answer is yes. How it does so we could go into much greater detail. The two or three basic mechanisms have to do with the extreme difficulty to socialize a new generation into new political norms. So they learn their politics from their elders who are not so old themselves but who have not been behaving properly. And so the norms that came about from Sanjay Gandhi onwards (gundas, thugs, and variety of lumpan elements that Indian newspapers like to call them) once they entered politics many of these people are now socializing university students and the unemployed and other political agents in the urban milieu. And so that of course becomes a fairly significant source of political turbulence in the polity. One could also talk about poverty. Poverty is just too easy to blame. Many people say that if you could just create more wealth there will be less terrorism, less violence, no communism. For every bad thing, poverty can be blamed. So, of course, poverty contributes, but in complicated ways. That is why I have stayed away from poverty today.
My name is Sushil Raj. I think you have touched upon a very crucial point of institutional reform which is very necessary reform. One often time finds that bureaucracy and politics, that the politicians are so involved in blaming and less of reflection and less of troubleshooting and problems solving. When you have a situation like that, do you think there is a space for non-profits, NGO groups, to target these institutions for reforms apart from looking at the government to reform itself?
NGO’s are extremely important actors but they can never be substituted for governmental institutions. They are also very rarely capable of reforming governmental institutions or other non-governmental political institutions. They can work in tandem and if the intention is benign they can certainly do wonders in the situation. If they are at odds with governmental situations, they can still do good but less good. So, I don’t want to romanticize the role NGOs can play without demeaning their significance…
Farooq Kathwari- Would any concessions to Kashmiris, most of whom consider themselves to be nationalists in terms of being Kashmiris and they also happen to be Muslims, would any concessions by BJP weaken this Hindu coalition that you have talked about and is that an issue in terms of finding a solution in Kashmir?
It is a very good question. Just imagine if the BJP government makes concessions to Farooq Abdullah or Hurriyat. The Hurriyat is an interesting case. If they made concessions to the Hurriyat, that will certainly start making some Hurriyat leaders look like they have been bought and that would certainly delegitimize them in the short run. Let us go back to Punjab for a second because this was precisely the problem in Punjab. If Congress made concessions to Akalis when Rajiv Gandhi said to Akalis we will take Chandigarh away from Haryana and give you Chandigarh that had a double edged impact on Akalis. Those Akali leaders whose hands were being strengthened as a result of this felt this was great, but others had started saying that they been bought off by Congress. So similar dynamics are likely in Kashmir. At this point, the big issue facing BJP, I think from what I have been able to judge from talking to people in the know, is whether to switch support from Farooq Abdullah to Hurriyat. Farooq Abdullah is the chief minister of the state and the Hurriyat is a coalition of a variety of Muslim separatist groups (about 30 different parties). And the Hurriyat has much more support probably than Farooq Abdullah does. I am not sure without rigging if he can win another election. So the question you are asking is a very good one. What should be the government’s strategy vis a vis either one of these groups? Should they give them more concessions or should they…My feeling is that they should let a real genuine open election take place. Whoever wins tell them- you cannot secede but we are willing to subsidize, give you a lot of resources, and willing to let you govern a fair number of things on your own. So whoever emerges as a legitimate set of rulers in a reasonably open election. Set boundaries but give concessions- I think that is more likely to work than trying to strengthen the hands of some groups by throwing resources at them which is the classic strategy both Congress and BJP play- we will visit you in the prison and make deals with you and hope when you come out you will be a good individual. I think that will probably backfire in the Kashmiri milieu right now. What do you think since you know so much?