Thursday, August 28, 2008

KASHMIR: The Inconsequential Views of an Indian Citizen

Such is the beauty of democracy that even though me being a citizen am supposed to be supreme, no one bothers to take cognizance of the opinions me or my fellow citizens might have regarding issues that affect our life profoundly. Case in point would be the almost bollywood inspired nuclear soap opera witnessed recently in the hallowed halls of the Parliament and the “effort” our elected representatives made to gauge public opinion and represent that instead of the deplorable show of shallow partisan politics they displayed. Once again we are mute spectators to blatant mismanagement by our legislators and its consequences. Kashmir is burning once again. Forest land being given to Amarnath shrine board was objected to on environmental grounds and two months later we have managed to convert a debate on conservation and ecology into a Jammu Vs Kashmir, Hindu Vs Muslims and India Vs Pakistan issue. One has to say quite commendable even by our standards.

A survey published by a national daily recently reported that 68% people in India did not want to “let Kashmir go”. The validity of such loaded surveys apart, it is almost as if we are “holding” Kashmiris against their free will and now we don’t want to let them go. That is in a way that if given a choice, Kashmir would go. And if that is true, it is unfortunate that educated people in a civilized society are voting in favour of holding people against their free will. But the question begs answering that do people in Kashmir really want to leave India? Or, is it because they are still nursing grudges of 1947. If yes, then why did the same people resist Pakistan when tribals from Pakistan along with regulars of the Pakistan army raided the state. After all it took five days to enter J&K when Maharaja Hari Sigh signed the instrument of accession. Who resisted the invaders for those five days? Did not the elevated state of unrest graduate into insurgency after the farcical elections of 1987 to bring NC into power?

I am a teacher by profession, and one of my students Rizwan asked me few questions regarding the ongoing drama in Jammu and Kashmir that has left me disturbed to my core. I had once berating him for not studying, asked him if he was ready to remain without a job and that whether he would join LeT for a living. An obviously insensitive and thoughtless remark. A couple of days ago, the same seemingly harmless remark came back to haunt me. Rizwan told me about an incident where the army entered a house in Handwara firing indiscriminately and killing the lady of the house. An obviously emotionally charged Rizwan wanted know what could stop people like him and his friend who see such excesses almost daily from joining LeT. Interestingly a debate on a social networking site had a serving captain in the Indian army justifying the incident as “collateral damage and acceptable”. The debate eventually degenerated into immature show of bravado and daring each other to battle. Rizwan’s messages left me wondering what I am supposed to respond with. My problem was that he had taken to heart and remembered a very casual remark made by me few years ago and I was sure that whatever I would say would remain with him for a long time and maybe even modify his behaviour in some way. Looking inside my mind for ideas, I realized to my shock that even though the mention of Kashmir would set my pulse racing, I practically knew nothing about the issue.

I like most middle class Indians are mentally geared not to take notice of issues that do not have clear and visible impact on the monthly income and savings. In a country of more than a billion, I can say with a fair degree of confidence that the number of people who “know” about the Kashmir issue, the dispute, its genesis, its timeline, roles played by India, Pakistan, the UN and USA, the wars, the agreements, the UN resolutions and recent happenings is very few. Of course, the very mention of Kashmir or Pakistan often initiates debates and discussions of high intensity, but the content is often factually wrong, partisan and most interestingly very short lived. We have been brought up on the staple diet that Pakistan is the enemy and Kashmir is to be “defended” at all costs. Even as grown ups, we are constantly exposed to visual and print content that somehow seems to be loaded against one particular religion. How many Hollywood movies do you recall where the villain was not a Muslim terrorist. Then I am forced to ask myself, what if they are right, can it be possible that the phenomenon of terrorism was spawned and sustained by one religious group exclusively? If true, would it not mean that almost everyone from that religion whom I have come to admire are terrorists? Would that not bring revered names in the world of poetry, art, science, business, government under a cloud? Another pertinent question that comes to mind is that, have other religious groups never displayed questionable behaviour? I am sure there are enough arguments to rationally explain events ranging from crusades long back in history to the modern day pogroms witnessed in our own cities. How can I forget what happened in New Delhi in 1984? How can I forget Gujarat? How can I forget my fellow Hindus “punishing” Graham Staines and his two little children? And how can I pretend not know any story of “alleged” excesses by Indian Armed Forces in Kashmir.

The answer I would get from the contemporary self appointed guardians of Hinduism and nationalist pride would be that I am not “strong” enough and that it is a war in Kashmir and sometimes “collateral damage” does take place. One of my own friends who went on to win the Ashok Chakra, told me that he felt the same way on many issues till he witnessed a burqa clad woman turn out to be a terrorist carrying an AK and the innocent school bag an IED. Yes, I am no liberal when it comes to the territorial integrity of my country and national pride. I am proud of my friends in the Indian army and am grateful for their commitment and sacrifices. But as I grow older I am developing a view that violence and fear have never proven to be worthwhile deterrents. Had fear been a deterrent enough we would not have had the heroic freedom struggle we had. Even at a personal level, I have felt that whenever I have tried to scare someone into doing something or not doing it, I have achieved very little success. But the fact that what could have been described as struggle has been hijacked by vested interests and till infiltration and violence levels ebb, even the government will find it difficult to reduce troop levels. And in such harsh working conditions, and under such stress levels, if men tend to overreact or go out of hand once in a while, even though unfortunate and unjustifiable, I think it is a universal phenomenon seen wherever you have armed individuals spending prolonged periods in conflict. That brings us back to square one. The Kashmir issue will need resolution in order to solve the problems that are a direct consequence of it. There cannot be any linear solution to the multidimensional problem of Kashmir. It is not a mere territorial dispute, human rights are involved, religious divide is involved, right to self determination is involved.

I believe that the people of Jammu and Kashmir should be accorded their right to self determination but am of the opinion that even though that is the right thing to do, it will initiate a domino effect and almost all states already have freedom monger political agencies.

The case for self determination in for the people in Kashmir is rock solid and the only reason we cannot let them have their right is our fear of collapse of the Indian nation. We wanted it from the British. We helped Bangladesh get it. We claim to sympathise with Palestine, then why are we being hypocritical in this case? The logic of self determination is based on the premise that every human being has the natural right to freedom. I accept that I am no expert on history and that I have no experience that can qualify my views, but I know that I can trust the Prime Ministers of my country and I know that Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru was a Prime Minister of India and a person personally involved in the whole issue of Kashmir. I also know that in a radio broadcast on 2 November 1947, Pandit Nehru said that “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but the world. We will not, and cannot back out of it. We are prepared when peace and law and order have been established to have a referendum held under international auspices like the United Nations.” I am also a believer in law. I believe that it is adherence to law that differentiates human societies from wild animals. It is also widely accepted that we became “civilized” only after the chaos in human life was controlled through creation and enforcement of law. We take a high moral ground when USA invades Iraq with UN sanction but we quietly choose to ignore the fact that United Nations through Security Council resolution 122 (1957) of 24 January 1957 had reaffirmed the principle, stating that “the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite.” However what would happen in the event of a plebiscite is debatable. In my layman reading, Jammu would vote to stay and so would the predominantly Buddhist Ladakh. The valley will be split between a majority of Azaadi seekers and a minority in favour of joining Pakistan. Then I wonder what if the valley is made independent? What sort of government would they have? What would be their economic structure? Where will they procure power, commodities, commerce and industries from? What would be the modalities of travel between the valley and “neighbor” India? Where would they create an army from? A police, hospitals, schools, hospitals, media…… So many questions which sometimes make me doubt the very viability of an independent state of Kashmir. Maybe in the end, India would turn out to be the most optimum choice. But the key word is choice.

Till then we have no choice but to hop that the government policies and initiatives like the composite dialogue will keep inching forward. It is true that there has been a slck in the “either or” mentality of all three parties involved. In fact the mere attempts of government of India to engage APHC indicates acceptance that Kashmir is a tripartite issue rather than a bipartite one. Pakistan under General Musharraf had made progress on the dialogue front but progress seems dismal with the increasing number of reported LoC violations and cross border firing. The Indian government under Manmohan Singh had at least begun talking of “self rule” and “open borders” but here too the realities of coalition politics influences the speed at which political thought evolves and sometimes even the direction.
What is needed right now is decisive leadership, bold decisions and courage to forget historical differences. Confidence building measures and track II diplomacy should be encouraged. People to people contact should be maximised and attempts should be made to create as many common platforms as possible.

I am still confident that peace can return to J & K. My formula would be to somehow get prosperity in. We have to create schools, universities, jobs, industry. Even if the environment in Kashmir today does not allow that, get the youth out of there and get them in colleges and universities in other parts of India. Then create sustainable employment for all. I believe that if given respect and an opportunity, we will manage to erode the manpower base of separatists. No student in my MBA class hardly 400 Kms away from the epicenter of the issue has any clue about Kashmir and encouragingly, it seems to be a non issue for them. Maybe that is the only solution to this multidimensional problem.

I do not know what exactly transpired in 1947. I do not know if Patel and Menon did indulge in diplomatic arm twisting. I don’t know if the attack by tribals from across the border drove Hari Singh to sign the accession. But I know for sure that if we keep using Kashmir as an electoral plank, if we keep letting issues like the Amarnath land transfer issue get out of hand, if we keep reacting to separatists and proactively engaging the people of the state, if we keep up the rhetoric and senseless and immature bravado, we will be cursed by our own generations to come.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

My Dear Students

I wish you all a very happy independence day and I wish you young boys and girls go on to achieve whatever you wish for in life.
But, on a slightly different note, I want you to ask yourself the following questions:

Apart from a day off, does this day signify anything more to our generation?
Why were people like Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Tilak, Azad (by the way do you know that the real name of Chandrashekhar Azad was Chandrashekhar Sita Ram Tiwari) common in India before 1947 and how did they get replaced by the corrupt people who represent you?
Are you truly independent?
You are all such big fans of Bhagat Singh!! What do you think he would feel like looking at you and what you are doing for your country, your society, your family?

This independence that we so enjoy and ultimately misuse was earned at a very heavy cost. there is perhaps nothing more valuable in life than independence. But what is independence? Is it a freedom to do anything you want? is it the freedom to get up and go to sleep at will? A freedom from duties and responsibilities?


Freedom is much more than all that. Freedom is the privilege to do what is right. Freedom is control over your own actions. Freedom is the lack of insecurities and complexes. That person is free who is clear about himself or herself and is comfortable with whoever he or she is.

I have often seen youngsters use the word “responsibilities” and “lack of independence” in the same vein. That is a mistake. Your duties are your life, the reason for your existence, your differentiation from a mere animal existence.

You loose independence when you loose the courage to do what you know is right. You loose independence when you become slaves to money and success. You loose independence when people tie you down with their agenda because you did not have any.

This year make the following resolution.

“I will always strive to make a true positive contribution to people around me. I will not talk about my own country in derogatory terms. I will not harbor extreme views towards any country or religion. I will respect people. I will respect knowledge. I will respect learning.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Doha Round Collapse: Was India the Culprit?

Did the collapse at the ministerial meet signify the end of hegemony of the big four or did it signify the rise of India, China and Brazil as nations with enough clout that they can make or break the deal? In my opinion, both hypotheses are correct. There were 20 items on the agenda this time and against hopes and expectations, we reached the 18th. India, China and the rest could not reach an agreement on the issue of what “Special Safeguard Mechanism”. Then the talks broke down.

What is the SSM?
The Special Safegaurds Mechanism intended to allow developing countries to protect farmers in the event of import surges or price declines has emerged as one of the most fought-over issues of the ongoing mini-ministerial. The special safeguard mechanism would allow developing countries to raise tariffs beyond bound levels, in principle to stall inflows of cheap imports that could displace farmers.

What Did India Want and How Did it All Collapse?
India wanted the mechanism to allow it to raise the tariff’s beyond the Doha agreed levels in case of an import surge that would threaten the livelihood of Indian farmers. US and EU stated that this was against the principal of free trade and a stalemate ensued.The Director General, Mr. Pascal Lamy proposed a compromise formula. Lamy’s own proposed compromise would have allowed SSM remedies to surpass pre-Doha tariff bindings by up to 15 percent if and when import volumes would rise by 40 percent over a three-year average. The freedom to exceed current bound levels would have been limited to 2.5 percent of tariff lines, with remedies unavailable if prices were not actually declining.
The Indian stand was that since US and EU were subsidising agriculture heavily, the spurts in import of food items from such “subsidised” production centres would hurt the Indian farmer and that the safety trigger to use tarrifs to protect them were set too “high” for comfort. India argued that at such high trigger levels, the SSM may remain a cosmetic law and might not get operationalised in case of import surges. India wanted the highest SSM remedies to be triggered by import volume increases of 10 percent and more, with safeguard duties capped at 30 percent above bound levels.
On the 28th, the US contingent rejected the use of “numerical triggers” and linked the SSM activation to “demonstrable harm” to the livelihood security and rural development needs by the affected governments. The claims they said should then be subjected to “expert review”. Quite unexpectedly to many, India accepted it.
G-7 ministers and officials on Tuesday looked for more acceptable numbers to plug into the model proposed by Lamy. Sources say that one option would have involved a ‘trigger’ import volume increase of 15 to 20 percent, with remedies equal to either 30 percent of current bound tariffs or 8 percentage points. A subsequent trigger of a 35 to 40 percent increase in import volumes would have been linked to remedies of either 50 percent of bound tariff levels or 12 percentage points. The difference between the percentage of bound tariffs and the number of percentage points would be particularly relevant for countries looking to export to China, which has low tariff levels because of its accession conditions (adding 8 percentage points to a tariff capped at 8 percent amounts to a 100 percent increase; adding 30 percentage points, to yield 38 percent, represents a far higher increase).
The US reportedly did not budge from its position that a 40 percent increase in import volume was the lowest possible trigger it could accept for SSM remedies that would go beyond current tariff ceilings.

In The End
USA is home to 1 million agriculturists enjoying the advantages of being in a developed economy and availing the benefits of massive subsidies. Of the 1.1 billion people in India, more than 65% (a very conservative estimate) are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. In the majority of cases, the land holdings are small, no automation is possible, and production is dependent on monsoon. The majority are subsistence producers. For USA if at all it is an issue, it is an issue which affects a very small percentage, unless of course you factor in the upcoming elections. For India, the issue is about protecting the livelihood of people more than the population of USA. And in India too, elections are looming.