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India cannot witness an Ayub Khan moment

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By Sidharth Mishra

Historian and political theorist Partha Chatterjee cannot be expected to applaud the efforts of Government of India, which is led by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party. The portal, which published his article, is known for following an editorial policy promoting the dismemberment of the Indian state. The article, “In Kashmir, India Is Witnessing Its General Dyer Moment” was a product for a perfect stage for a protagonist wedded to a particular ideology.
The cacophonous media debate which followed the article made the portal and author popular for having taken a large number of ‘hits’. In our Google ‘moment’, it’s the ‘hit’ which one takes makes one the person who should be ‘followed’. Again the follower may not necessarily be your admirer. But the followers and the hits make good business and ‘The Wire’ must have emerged much richer by having demolarised not just the serving Army officers but even the community of the veterans.
I do not recall, the editor of ‘The Wire’ or Partha Chatterjee having written an article titled “India’s Florence Nightingale Moment,” when the Indian Army goes nursing from one corner of the country to another helping people in times of natural and manmade calamities.
 Did they acknowledge the contribution the jawans made in rescuing the large number of Kashmiris, first when an earthquake hit the state a few years ago, and then the floods which followed some years later?
For them the Indian Army is one arm of the colonial British Indian Army, the other being the Pakistan Army. Therefore, in the same article, otherwise a very pedestrian piece of writing in matters of content and argument, Chatterjee concludes saying, “One can only hope that as a nation, we have not reached the edge of a slippery slope. Otherwise, our General Dyer moment could prove to be the precursor to a General Ayub Khan moment. Or is it Yahya Khan or Zia-ul-Haq who will be the preferred role models?”
This point of view has been kind of seconded by former Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit, who owes his political stature to his mother, the redoubtable Sheila Dikshit, the person who successfully administered Delhi for 15 long years. Sandeep Dikshit’s interview to ANI was too quick-fix of an effort to invite your reporter’s efforts for a rejoinder. So let’s talk about the article on the website.
Chatterjee is part of what in social sciences is called the Subaltern Studies Group (SSG). The term ‘subaltern’ in this context is a reference to the work of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937), who calls any person or group of inferior rank and station, whether because of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion, as subaltern.
The SSG rose in the 1980s, which adopted a new narrative strategy which was critical of the traditional Marxist account of Indian history. The subalterns in particular were critical of the focus on the political consciousness of elites, who in turn, according to an older narrative, inspired the masses to resistance and rebellion against the British.
Sociologist Vivek Chibber in his lucid analysis of subaltern studies criticises the complication of class struggle and class formation and accuses promoters of the new narrative of erasing class exploitation from the story of the oppression of the subaltern. He argues that the postcolonial (subaltern) studies are based on false premises. Chibber focuses on the writings of Ranajit Guha and Dipesh Chakrabarty, and shows that both rely on a flawed comparison of European and Indian history, thereby locking Subaltern Studies into problematic analyses from the beginning. Chibber has also debated the issue with Partha Chatterjee.
Having discussed the nuances, now we could check on some historical indicators, which show why India will never witness an Ayub Khan moment. India’s economic sinews are firmly rooted in its democratic culture. While India surprised the world by holding its first general election based on universal adult suffrage way back in 1952, Pakistan could hold its first poll only in 1970 and did not allow Awami League, the party which won the polls, to form the government.
Pakistan’s moth-eaten economy and mutilated political and social culture are the fallout of following a policy to protect the interests of those heading the General Head Quarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, the fountainhead of anti-Indianism. Today Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif makes a tragic figure. He is a prisoner in the hands of his appointee – the Chief of the Army Staff. A military establishment or military propelled establishment can never deliver on the challenges of governance.
In the sub-continent, India has the best armed forces because pioneers like Field Marshals KM Cariappa, Sam Manekshaw, and General KM Thimayya laid strong foundations of a professional Army, which commands unbridled respect and gratitude of the nation. In Bangladesh, the people have warded off repeated attempts of a military junta trying to overpower a democratically elected government. In Sri Lanka, despite nearly three decades of insurgency it did not succumb to the lure of a military commander at the helm of affairs.
Pakistan finds itself in a mess because its people have not fought for strengthening democratic institutions in their country. Jinnah created Pakistan to quench his personal ambition to wield power. He and his party failed to undertake the exercise to create a culture of democracy in the country which they created to rule. Bereft of a democratic culture, Pakistan has remained, to use the words of its founding father -- a “moth-eaten” state.
On the other hand, India is a democratic nation which handles political and social dissent with lot of sensitivity often inviting derision of being labeled a soft state. Its Army, too, is distinctively different from the British Indian Army, under whose flag General Reginald Dyer served. Deposing before the Court of Inquiry, following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Dyer said that 1,650 rounds had been fired at unarmed people, a number apparently derived by counting empty cartridge cases picked up by the troops. British Government gave a figure of 379 identified dead, with approximately 1,100 wounded. The Congress countered the claim saying that more than 1500 were wounded and approximately 1,000 fell dead.
Major Leetul Gogoi’s act saved people, hurling petrol bombs and stones at defenceless government officials, from falling to the bullets of the jawans of the quick reaction team under his command. Equating the act of Gen Bipin Rawat of appreciating an officer with that of General Dyer, as sociologist Chibber said, is based on “flawed comparison”.
 
(Sidharth Mishra is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post.)
 

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