Monday, March 19, 2018

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Posted at: Mar 4, 2018, 12:04 AM; last updated: Mar 4, 2018, 12:04 AM (IST)
Harish Khare
Harish Khare

There are only losers in the North-East…

Harish Khare

Harish Khare

For the next 48 hours, we shall be talking excitedly about the North-East and, then, we all will go back to our “mainstream’ preoccupations and obsessions. These period engagements apart, the North-East remains too distant for the Delhi sultanate. 

From the times of the Roman empire, managing the periphery has been a difficult task for the central power. The farther away a province is from the central seat of authority and control, the greater is the dilution in bonds of attention, affection and obedience. For New Delhi, irrespective of the colour of the political party in charge of things at the Centre, managing the North-East has been a frustrating chore. It remains a work in progress. At the end of the day, it is an imperial task, whichever way you slice it. 

Anyone who has travelled to any part of the North-East is struck by the natural beauty of the place just as he becomes acutely aware of the tentativeness of links between the “heartland” and this “periphery.” Whether it is the dhotiwalas (of the Congress era) or the gaurakshaks of today who happen to be in command of the power-levers in 

New Delhi, the cultural and emotional divide with the North-East remains unmistakably stark. 

After the 1962 conflict with China, we, in our wisdom, thought that these links would get strengthened only if we could introduce democracy and elections. That, in practical terms, meant identity politics. That, in turn, meant accentuation of tribal and ethnic divisions. And, divisions produced conflict between tribes; and conflict invited the attention of the security establishment. The whole region has experienced, in various shades, violence and repression. Insurgency and militancy are terms of ‘normal’ life. Our intelligence agencies became a permanent presence.

In our desire to introduce democracy to the region, we ended up importing all the abnormalities of electoral politics in an area that takes pride in its ethnic isolation and separateness. The RSS and others thought the “church” was playing mischief and something ought to be done about it. Then, the political parties arrived with their bags of dirty tricks. Our “agencies” intervened on behalf of the central government of the day. Imagine, during the NDA days in 2001, the then Defence Minister George Fernandes’ pocket party, Samta Party, ended up forming a government in Manipur — of course, with the help of defectors, aided and abetted by central funds and agencies. 

We have done worse. We have corrupted the entire political elite. The political landscape is crisscrossed with agencies, central funds. Almost every single leader/minister/MLA has flirted with kleptocracy, bought benami property in Mumbai and Delhi, and indulged in illegal gun-running. 

The Assembly results do not mean much; a few things remain unchanged.


How did the BJP end up winning 73 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 ,and, then pocketing more than two-third of the seats in the Assembly elections of 2017? The answer, in parts, to this question is available a new book, Everyday Communalism — Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh, written by Professor Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar. I had the honour of being invited to release the book early this week at the India International Centre in Delhi. There was a very animated discussion, and my fellow panelists included Professor Salil Mishra, Siddharth Varadarajan and Seema Chishti. And, we had Professor Niraja Gopal Jayal moderating the evening. 

With remarkable scholarly detachment, Professor Pai dissects how the whole business of organising riots had changed in the 21st century. Rather than organise violence on a grand scale, as the case in the 1970s and 1980s, the new riots-managers have rewritten the book on what Sudha Pai calls, simply, everyday communalism. Her research focussed on eastern and western Uttar Pradesh, two regions which had mostly remained lukewarm to the BJP’s electoral sales pitch. 

According to her, the idea is simple: keep the pot of communal disharmony simmering by hatefulness on a daily basis, making the Muslims look like the perfect ‘other’ who can be easily demonised as ‘enemy.’ The strategic advantage of this ‘everyday communalism’ is that except the masterminds, nobody notices it; as long as there is no violence, it is deemed to be business as usual, especially for the middle classes. There is a comforting boast that “no riots have taken place in our time.” 

The portrait Professor Pai has drawn is frightening. “Everyday communalism” involves sustained synergy between the BJP, the RSS, the VHP and other assorted outfits, like the Hindu Yuva Vahini, an armed militia set up by Yogi Adityanath. As Sudha Pai tells it, considerable planning was involved in choosing eastern UP and the western UP as ‘laboratories’ for practising new communalism; both regions had suffered economic pain on account of globalisation and agrarian distress. Once the ground is made sufficiently fertile, all that is required is someone like Narendra Modi to come and ignite the communal fire by using code words like kabristan and shamshan. 

All the panelists praised Sudha Pai’s meticulous research, and ended up noting with dismay that the script can easily be applied in other parts of the country. And, then, there was this elephant-in-the-room question: why was it not possible for the ‘secular’ forces, parties and leaders to discern what the communal side was doing and, then, to do something about it?


It has been a week since Justin Trudeau returned home after his fitful India sojourn, but it seems that this visit would remain a matter of controversy for some more time, thanks mostly to a gentleman named Jaspal Atwal. 

Of course, it suited the political convenience of some of our own leaders to make a hoo-ha about the presence of ‘Khalistanis’ in the Canadian Prime Minister’s cabinet and entourage. Beyond a point, it serves little purpose for the Punjab leaders to harp on ‘Khalistanis’ who are a miniscule minority even among the Canadian Sikhs.

Of course, we Indians do have a capacity for botching up things. What is not so easy to understand is the Canadian behaviour. After all, Canada is not new to international diplomacy and protocol; and, it is, therefore, totally mystifying that Justin Trudeau and his very charming family should have arrived in India without a firmly worked out itinerary of engagements with the Indian government. 

Even this business of this or that undesirable fellow being on the list of invitees at various Trudeau’s receptions smacks of third-world sloppiness. But what takes the cake is the official Canadian formulation that it were some “rogue” elements in India who had cleverly ensured an invitation for Jaspal Atwal — just to make the Canadian government appear partisan to the Khalistani corner. Extraordinary invention! Totally unworthy of an ‘advanced’ nation. 


Authoritarian rulers do not like anyone mocking them. They know humour can be most subversive. Xi Jinping is emerging as the new emperor in China. And, the censors are working overtime, excising all satirical references and allusions in the cyberspace that may be meant as criticism of President Xi. According to a report in The Financial Times, the Chinese authorities have even banished Winnie the Pooh. The new emperor-in-the-making resembles somewhat the cuddly teddy bear. The authorities swung into action after an Internet user posted a picture of Winnie hugging a pot of honey and saying: “Find the thing you love and stick with it.” 

And that is not funny. 


Time for reflection and coffee. 

Join me.


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