FROM the mouths of politicians, the daily ‘news’ bulletins from television media, a war on our collective intelligence and humanity has been declared. It had been declared long ago – when Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was branded ‘anti-national’ for supporting adivasis in their struggle against landgrab by Essar; when Aamir Khan was branded unpatriotic for speaking out about the climate of fear being fostered by the ruling party and government against minorities; when Rohith Vemula was branded ‘anti-national’ for his anti-communal activism; when JNU students were accused of ‘sedition.’ Now, after the attack on a military base in Uri and the retaliatory ‘surgical strike’, that war on intelligence and dissent has intensified. It has been declared ‘unpatriotic’ to ask questions of the Government; to seek transparency about the Government’s claims and military actions; to suggest that peace is a necessary and valuable goal between India and Pakistan; to admire Pakistani cultural artists or writers; to speak about the atrocities that continue against Kashmir; to burn effigies of the Prime Minister.
The current climate of war-mongering has many dangerous effects that we need to recognise and resist.
The Government and BJP war-mongering rhetoric is different from common, garden-variety jingoism. It has taken on distinct, deliberate, ominous ‘Hindu nationalist’ overtones.
The Prime Minister, at a Vijaydashami function in Lucknow, the capital of poll-bound UP, posed with a variety of Hindu mythological weapons – the ‘Gada’, the ‘bow and arrow’, the ‘Sudarshan chakra.’ He invoked the slogan of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Victory to Lord Rama, the slogan BJP coined during the Ram Mandir campaign in the 1990s) in the context of combating terrorism. If Modi gave the ‘war on terror’ rhetoric a Hindutva flavour, his Defence Minister Manohar Parrikkar went a step further. He equated the Indian Army with Hanuman, the mythical monkey warrior from the Ramayana, and declared that RSS teachings had inspired the surgical strikes. Not so subtly, ‘Muslim’ Pakistan is being equated with ‘evil’ and ‘Hindu’ India with the ‘good.’
Significantly, at Dadri, the dead body of a man accused of lynching Akhlaque to death over ‘beef’ was draped in the Indian flag. No Minister, no BJP leader protested that this was a misuse and disrespect of the flag, which is usually draped on the bodies of soldiers. By defining patriotism as killing ‘Pakistanis’ and ‘terrorists’, the Government, BJP and RSS are not-so-subtly encouraging the notion that killing Indian Muslims who are accused of ‘eating beef’ or ‘killing cows’ is also patriotism.
Add to this Modi’s comparison of the surgical strike with the ‘valorous’ exploits of the Israel Army. Israel is a Jewish nation, an occupying power in Palestine. The comparison of India with Israel is not a casual one. Parallels with Zionism are nothing new for the RSS, which likes to imply that India is a Hindu nation just as Israel is a Jewish one, and that both Israel and India have to battle against evil Islamic terrorist ‘neighbours.’ Just as Palestine ‘belongs’ to Israel in the Zionist imagination, Pakistan ‘belongs’ to Akhand Bharat (Undivided/Greater India) in the RSS imagination.
“When the rich wage war, it's the poor who die”
- Jean-Paul Sartre
“All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting....”
- George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia
“Yet for all their self-professed civility, your rulers will gladly spend a soldier’s life to better aid their posturing... They will send the children of others off to die and only think upon it later to grandly and loudly memorialize them, lauding their great sacrifice.”
- Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Blades
To oppose war, we are told, is to ‘disrespect the solider.’ It’s worth remembering that soldiers are drawn from the poorest, most deprived rural households. They join the Army in their fight against hunger, their fight for their family’s survival.
In India, the Ambanis get lucrative defence deals – such as the latest controversial Rafale fighter jets deal with France. But the sons of the rich CEOs, politicians and media anchors are never killed at Uri or Pathankot or Kargil, or buried in ice at Siachen; they’re not the ones who sign up as Army jawans. Celebrating soldiers’ ‘sacrifices’ comes cheap when one is confident that we and our our own kindred will not be called upon to make those sacrifices.
To respect or care for soldiers must mean to oppose war and pursue peace. To respect the soldier must mean to ask – why were military bases at Uri and Pathankot left so vulnerable that infiltration was possible? All over the world, Governments abandoned war veterans who struggled alone with physical and mental disabilities – it is anti-war activists who had the greatest empathy and concern for these ex-soldiers. To mourn the dead and disabled soldiers is to call upon the poor to refuse to be cannon fodder for the wars waged by the rich and powerful.
Soldiers and veterans have been pointing out that the Governments which curry votes and silence dissent in the names of soldiers’ actions are reluctant to agree to One Rank One Pension, and to agree to the demands for dignified disability pensions for soldiers across ranks.
Onkarnath Dolui, the 64-year-old father of Gangadhar Dolui who was killed in the Uri attack, said, “Believe me, I don’t want war as it demands countless of lives like that of my son on either side. It will be much better for the two countries to seek a solution to the outstanding problems through negotiations only. Guns will only multiply the misery on both sides.”
Gurmehar Kaur, 19-year old daughter of Captain Mandeep Singh who was killed at Kargil, sent out a powerful, silent message through a series of 30 placards in a video on Facebook. Hers was a message against hatred, against war-mongering, for peace and communal harmony (see box).
But the voices of Onkarnath Dolui and Gurmehar are drowned out by the bullying and blustering of the Arnab Goswamis and Raj Thackerays. Gurmehar’s video message is silent – conveyed through placards accompanied with music. Contrast that with the noisy war-cries from our TV studios every night.
Sarhad pe bahut tanav hai kya?
Kuch pata to karo chunav hai kya?
(Is the border fraught with tension?
Find out – is there an election?)
– Rahat Indori
The BJP imagines that the ‘surgical strike’ is its sure-fire ‘astra’ (supernatural weapon) in upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh. Its election hoardings in the state boast of the ‘surgical strikes’, and combine military imagery with imagery of a militarised Rama.
BJP’s election in-charge for UP, Om Mathur told BJP workers at cadre meetings to ‘convert surgical strikes into votes.’
By so doing, the BJP would like to divert attention away from the Modi Government’s stark failures to keep its promises: on price rise, unemployment, farmers’ suicides, women’s rights, security of military bases; and the Government’s role in sponsoring mob violence against Muslims, Dalits, and dissenting voices.
The Congress is responding to the Modi Government’s claims of surgical strike by pointing out that similar strikes took place during the UPA regime too. A newspaper revealed documents proving that Indian troops carried out a cross-border ‘retaliatory’ strike in 2011 following a raid by Pakistani military. It emerges that in those raids and retaliations, the Geneva Convention and international norms of military engagement were thrown to the winds. Heads of Pakistani and Indian soldiers were chopped off and carried away as ‘trophies’ and later destroyed on orders of top military officials to conceal evidence of these war crimes. It is time for Indian and Pakistani citizens to declare that such atrocities and war crimes cannot be a source of ‘national pride’ for the people of either country. Lasting peace and an end to terror, war-mongering and hatred in the South Asian neighbourhood would be a worthy source of pride.
When 15 lakh people from Punjab’s border villages were given eviction orders by the Akali-BJP Government and Union Home Ministry in the name of border tension, there was widespread anger. The Governments were eventually forced to roll back the eviction order, because the villagers refused to comply with the order anyway.
A team of CPI(ML) activists – CPI(ML) State Secretary Gurmeet Singh, Gurdaspur Secretary Sukhdev Singh Bhagokama, Punjab state secretariat member Balbir Randhawa, Gurdaspur district committee member Balbir Singh Billa, AICCTU’s Punjab General Secretary Gulzar – visited several villages at zero point on the border in Gurdaspur and Pathankot districts to meet the villagers when the eviction order was in force. They visited Shahpur Goraya, Bohar Wadala, Salampur, Sanghor, Sham Sherpur, Thaman, Dehariwal Kiran in Gurdaspur, and Kohlian and Sakampur in Pathankot.
The team found that border villagers had sent their children, accompanied by their mothers, away from the village. In most cases even the women had returned within a couple of days, if possible leaving the children with family in other interior villages.
The rice crop had been ready for harvest, and villagers refused to leave the crop and go. “How can we leave our crops, our cattle, our immovable property and leave?” they asked.
At one relief camp the team found just seven people. At another relief camp in Dera Baba Nanak (DBN) Sector, there were just 21 people.
A brick-kiln worker Prakash Chand, resident of one of the villages at the zero-point on the border, and his sons, spoke to the team. They said, “Political leaders are encashing votes in exchange for war panics. We’re being asked to clear out so that the country can be told that there is a war-like situation. The people of Punjab are being used as fodder in this game.”
Punjab – a border state – is one part of India where anti-war sentiment prevails among the people. The people there say that it is the villagers of Punjab who pay the price for the military misadventures of rulers for whom war-games translate into votes in other states. Where war is remote, it is romanticized. Where it is immediate, it is impossible to romanticize.
(Excerpts from a video message circulated on Facebook by 19 year-old Gurmehar Kaur, as part of a #ProfileForPeace social media campaign in which thousands of Indian and Pakistani citizens uploaded selfies with peace messages.)
I am Gurmehar Kaur.
I am from Jalandhar, India.
This is my dad Captain Mandeep Singh.
He was killed in the 1999 Kargil war.
I was 2 years old when he died, I have very few memories of him. I have more memories of how it feels to NOT have a father.
I also remember how much I used to hate Pakistan and Pakistanis because they killed my dad.
I used to hate Muslims too because I thought all MUSLIMS are PAKISTANIS.
When I was six years old, I tried to stab a lady in a burkha. Because for some strange reason I thought she was responsible for my father's death.
My mother held me back and made me understand that Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him.
It took me a while to know, but now I have learnt to let go of my hate. It was not easy but it’s not difficult. If I can do it so can you.
Today, I'm a soldier just like my dad. I fight for peace between India and Pakistan. Because if there were no war between us my father would still be here. I am making this video because I want the governments of both countries to stop pretending and solve the problem....Majority of regular Indians and Pakistanis want peace, not war. Please, pull up your socks, talk to each other and get the job done.
Enough state-sponsored terrorism. Enough state sponsored spies. Enough state sponsored hatred. Enough people have died on both sides of the border. Enough is enough.
THE Awami Workers’ Party (AWP) of Pakistan held its Second Congress at Karachi Arts Council on October 15-16, 2016. CPI(ML) sent a message of solidarity, regretting our inability to send representatives to attend the Congress.
Earlier, the AWP organised an ‘Anti-War Train March’, with around 300 AWP workers from across the country travelled to Karachi by Awami Express from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Rahim Yar Khan, Quetta and parts of Sindh to demand a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict with India and asking military and media not to promote or tolerate warmongering.
The AWP Congress adopted many resolutions. One resolution reiterated that the AWP “is against war and wants peace in the South Asian region as well as in the world. It considers the current escalation of tension and war mongering between Pakistan and India as a conspiracy of the ruling class of the two countries to divert the attention of the people from the mounting socio-economic problems.” Another resolution demanded the “separation of religion from state affairs and condemns extremism and terrorism” and “an immediate end to the state patronage of jihadi, and extremist sectarian outfits.”
The AWP’s resolutions for pro-worker laws and minimum wages of Rs 25000 per month are very similar to the demands of workers in India. The party demanded a “drastic cut in defence and other non-development budgets and increase the allocations for education, health and other basic needs of the people.”
The AWP condemned the “harassment of progressive and nationalist activists.” In particular, the party condemned “filing of cases against AWP leaders -- Ghulam Dastagir Mehboob and Baba Jan as well as peasants’ leader Mehr Abdul Sattar and others -- under anti-terrorism laws on trumped up charges and demands their immediate release.” The party also expressed concern over “the rising incidents of enforced disappearance, extra-judicial killings and dumping of bullet-riddled and mutilated bodies in Balochistan, Sindh and other areas” and demanded “an immediate end to state terrorism.”
Condemning coercive methods being used against media and the recent harassment of a senior journalist Cyril Almeida following an article in which he had written that which said the civilian government had asked the military to go after anti-India militants, otherwise the Pakistani government risked international isolation. The AWP supported the article, holding that “unless and until a ban is imposed on extremist jihadi outfits like Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiyeba and Haqqani Network Pakistan will face allegations from the west of promoting terrorism and face diplomatic isolation.”
The newly-elected AWP Federal Executive Committee comprises Fanoos Gujjar as President, Yousaf Mastikhan as Senior Vice-President, Abida Choudhry as Vice-President, Akhtar Hussain as General Secretary, Farooq Tariq as Spokesperson among others.
The Left and progressive forces on both sides of the border will continue to strive for mutual peace and solidarity, and the AWP Congress strengthens and inspires this effort at a time when war-mongering threatens peace in both India and Pakistan.