The state is paying a heavy ideological and psychological price. The brutality challenges its very base. India, for Indians, has always prided itself on its secular, humanist and liberal ideological foundations. Non violence is part of its self-image and mythology. Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru, the founding fathers of the state, would have been appalled at the handling of the present crisis, as indeed are many Indians.
We saw how a Sikh bodyguard violated every tradition, including the highly developed sense of honour among the Sikhs, and assassinated the very person he was meant to protect, the Prime Minister of India. Something had snapped for the assassins. Indira Gandhi had become a symbol of the repressive state to the Sikhs. Similar tensions are now being created among Muslims. The long-term effects will be devastating. These suggest a change of self-perception at all levels of Indian society.
Take the Indian military and para-military forces, one of the largest in the world with over two million soldiers. What matters in the context of our argument is its introduction to long and involved bouts of civil administration. Sustained and final authority to administer civilian populations, with the inevitable stories of torture and rape, break down the essential core of discipline and self-image of a professional fighting force. Morale, that mystical quality sustaining esprit de corps, is damaged. It is the difference dividing it from a mob or rabble. In Sri Lanka, stories of rape and torture were rile; they are also in circulation in Kashmir.
It is to be noted that the Indian army has so far remained the model of a professional fighting force, not least because it is not involved in administration and politics, unlike the army in Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is the pride and symbol of a secular India. Members from the minority communities have headed the army with professional competence and confidence. But its soldiers are sons of the South Asian soil. These are new and dangerous waters for the Indian army and it does not augur well for the army’s professional stance and future.
It is also relevant to raise the issue of a new and powerful force that has of late assumed a key role in South Asian affairs, the “intelligence services”. Their great power and wide influence are a phenomenon worthy of serious study. They have their own ethos, leaders, corps and methods of working. With stories of mayhem, terrorism and assassination spilling out of their dirty tricks bag they pose a major challenge to notions of liberalism, humanism and tolerance (the habeas corpus is invariably the first victim of their activity). Anonymous hit-men operating from numberless “safe houses” are neither accountable to the public nor discriminating in their victims. Their definitions of loyalty to the state and of who should be on their hit lists is not necessarily shared by their governments. These agencies are known to be active beyond their borders, sometimes acting on their own volition (Benazir Bhutto and V.P. Singh, as the respective Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India, have complained of this). This is a monster stalking South Asia, a Frankenstein.
Events in Kashmir, in Indian Punjab and Pakistani Sind are popularly assumed to be influenced by these agencies. The ISI of Pakistan is seen as supporting the JKLF in Kashmir by India. India’s RAW is believed to be master-minding the turmoil in Sind. Their involvement in daily life and stories of brutality feed and explain the sustained nature of the movements.
It is a period of transition, coalition and weak governments, of leaders with uncertain futures. Internally the law and order in many districts across the land appears to have collapsed with horrific stories being reported in the press. A more vocal, more restless younger generation adds fat to the fire, being all too ready to bring out processions and damage property or people. Materialism is the new ideology, and the TV and the fridge every house-owner’s ambition. The richer groups dream of Dallas and Dynasty-like life styles. There are high political and economic expectations and there is the growth of a large and vocal middle class.
India’s middle class is an interesting social phenomenon numbering over 100 million, and has emerged over the last decade. This dass contrasts with the underclass whose 350-400 million people flounder in a semi¬permanent condition of deprivation. It explicitly identifies with Hinduism, which has therefore become part of the general culture of India in a manner it never was a generation ago. This class provides a fertile breeding ground for communalism.
The middle class, cozy and smug in its beliefs, would be definition
encourage the status quo, wishing only for the good life. Bright young men (and women), mostly from this class, join service not to ‘serve the people’—a cliche from the past—but to lead better lives, often making money illegally. Corruption is widespread. The wishes of this class dictate cultural trends, its ideas neglect political developments. And it simplifies issues dangerously. For instance, on Kashmir: “Why should a few million people in Kashmir be allowed to blackmail—or hold hostage—800 million people in the rest of India?” Or: “If Kashmiris secede the 100 million Indian Muslims have proved their untrustworthiness so it is folly to trust Muslims”. And: “At heart every Muslim is a Pakistani”. Also: “There is no real problem in Kashmir it is all created by Pakistan’s ISI”.
The above elements create national neurosis which explains the ‘fortress’ mentality of India. Thus the most incongruous and wild accusations blame Pakistan from crop failure to political crises. ‘Fortress’ India must be defended from the enemy who is all around the minatory. This in part explains the extreme response in Kashmir which is seen as a weak spot in the fortress.