Monday, January 26, 2009

Republic Day and other matters...

Watching the Republic Day parade on the start of the 60th year of our republic, I was reminded of my childhood, when, living literally a stone's throw away (on Janpath) from Rajpath where the parade takes place every year, we used to go each year, wrapped up in our woolens in the cold January morning to watch the colourful spectacle. Now, in a more politically correct world, when I see it, it seems like a somewhat outmoded and anachronistic spectacle of a Government displaying its military might to its citizens and to the world - a favourite device of the socialist bloc countries to display a bit of naked muscle to both its citizens and the world.


Speaking of military might, I was reminded of Mumbai and 26/11 recently, from a quote from Sunil Mukhi's blog -- "I used to be a liberal but now, after 26/11...". I find an amazing variety in the spectrum of opinion about 26/11 and what should be done, all from my own institute. Two extreme examples..

1. The only solution is to declare war on Pakistan. This involves bombing a few cities like Lahore and/or Karachi (with the assumption that the Pakistan Air Force is asleep on its watch and will do nothing). One can safely assume in such a scenario and with the kind of populations that Indian and Pakistani cities have, that with consequent retaliatory bombing by Pakistan, many 1000s will die in a single day. The argument for this action is that we are at war anyway with the jehadis and tens of thousands have been killed by them in the last two decades of so. This takes the war into their own house. The problem frankly is that the numbers that will die in a day will match or surpass the numbers killed in all the terrorist violence since the late 80s, almost all of them innocent civilians (in both cases). Somehow this seems to be of no consequence to the arm chair war purveyors. And after all this, there is very little likelihood that the jihadis and their ilk will, like the old Arab in the parable, fold their tents and steal silently away. The US has been at war in two places, and from the evidence, it has only succeeded in adding more volunteers to the jehadi cause.

2. The other extreme view (what I would call the Arundhati Roy point of view) is that it is all the fault of the Indian state -- Babri Masjib, 2002 Gujarat riots and so on and we are just reaping what we sowed. In other words, the terrorists bear no personal responsibility for their actions, in killing hundred of innocent bystanders, rich and poor, Hindus and Muslims alike. This despite the fact that the Mumbai terrorists had no Kashmir or Gujarat links, and were petty criminals earlier who were attracted to this job by the promise of money and/or the dream of everlasting life in heaven, on martyrdom.

Amusingly both viewpoints exist in my workplace. How can the same initial conditions give such widely differing views? Just shows that the same facts can give widely differing conclusions in the so-called social sciences -- quite different from the physical sciences, wouldn't you say....

Tailpiece: Here is an excellent account on why the Pakistan Government finds it so difficult to act against all these jehadi groups. The conclusion is sobering: President Zardari’s government, many had hoped, would dismantle the Pakistan that Zia-ul-Haq built — a Pakistan based on the dual primacy of the military and the mullah, resting on the pillars of religious chauvinism and hatred for India. If President Zardari’s handling of the fallout from the Mumbai carnage is any indication, the forces he represents have neither the will nor the resources to reverse history. Islamabad, post-Mumbai, isn’t in denial. It is simply driven by the reflexes imprinted by the history which gave birth to it.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

How can the same initial conditions give such widely differing views?

I'd guess that the institute is not responsible for very many initial conditions...

Anant said...

Nice post. But many points need to be clarified, commented on, methinks.

Correct me if I am wrong, but did not the Berlin wall fall 20 (!!) years ago, and did not the USSR disappear at about the same time? So why the baiting of socialist countries? Actually it is interesting that this year's chief guest is an old hand from the former USSR, Nazarbayev. These are opportunities to showcase how well our armed forces are equipped with a lot of military imports and it is a chance for weapons peddlers from all over the world to land up and try and sell us more. I think that the moment it is none but the USA which is looking to selling lots of military hardware to India. And unless you shock and awe your population into believing that these murder machines are needed, it is bad for business. Your comments, o learned one?!

But what does all this have to do with 26/11? Methinks that the second half should have been a separate post. But humble readers cannot pick and choose and must respond to inappropriate sections of the post as well.

Those who are of the opinion that India should nuke Pakistan should simply accept that Pakistan can just as easily do that to India. I am reminded of an old bumper sticker `A nuclear weapon could ruin your entire lawn.' Votaries of this school of thought should remind themselves that a nuke can simply ruin an entire block of pizza hut, dominos pizza, coffee day and barista.

As for the other school of thought, it is actually a travesty to suggest that Gujarat implies terrorism, etc.. In fact it is an insult to all those who have borne their misfortune with equanimity and those who push such schools of `thought' should ask who is pushing this line, and who benefits from such disinformation.

Rahul Basu said...

Anant: Yes, indeed the second part is 'worthy' of being a separate post. But I started thinking of military might and then went on to the India Pakistan imbroglio...streams of consciousness, perhaps :)

Unfortunately in the present world, some of these murder machines are needed. It's a sad commentary perhaps on how humans can destroy peaceful co-existence, but it can hardly be your case that we don't even need a standing army. Even a pragmatic pacifist like Orwell pointed out the necessity of a standing army to preserve one's freedom. How much of actual hardware we need is of course a subjective matter.

About baiting of socialist countries, well there are still some leftovers aren't there -- Albania, North Korea, and, dare I say it, Cuba! And as I see it, The USSR under Putin is rapidly regaining all the unpleasant characteristics of its socialist past.

Anant said...

On a lighter note, apparently one of Orwell's pacifist friends was rueing that children were playing with tin soldiers, upon which Orwell asked if he or she prefered that the children play with tin pacifists!