Wednesday, 25 May, 2022
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India is and will remain a democracy and why restoring statehood for J&K will be a mistake

Subscribers look at Middle East and Myanmar to argue in favour of India’s democracy and note how statehood will undermine all progress made by  revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

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Is Information Technology India’s oil? 

You cannot go a day without hearing about how certain indicators of our national health show signs of decline. This has been linked to certain policies and personalities within incumbent government at the center. Surveys and statistical analyses conducted by some western sources are often cited as evidence. One such report, published by Economic Intelligence unit, describes India as a “flawed democracy”. People are alarmed at the direction we are going in. While some of those fears are not without reason, before we lose all hope, let us examine two regions reputed for their autocracies: The middle east and Myanmar. 

The Middle East Paradox                                                                     

I have always found Middle east to be fascinating. Having had friends who adhere to the Islamic faith and going to college in Hyderabad, my curiosity had been lured in by fantastic calligraphy and was sustained by the history of the region. From the rise of Sumer five thousand years ago, to the present, the region may never have had a decade without conflict. 

The land, most of which is desert, has enormous oil reserves, which has made these of these nations enormously wealthy. The rulers are, of course by ruthless dictators, or fascistic monarchies. What gives? 

The Curious Case of Burmese Jade Button   

Burma, in many ways is the opposite of the middle east. It is a Buddhist country, located in the monsoon belt and has vast tracts of fertile land. It is also a former British colony and was a thriving republic after independence in 1948. It has enormous reserves of gas, oil, Jade, and other precious resources. Unlike the middle east, its per capita GDP is not high. Since its first in 1962, Burma has been through multiple military coups. Why do the Burmese have to suffer under a military dictatorship? 

These examples suggest that it is not either wealth or the lack there of, can predict emergence of dictatorships, military or otherwise. What gives? 

In “The dictators handbook”, professors Mesquita and Smith have illustrated this perfectly. Politicians, like all people, are self-interested. Their primary interest is to grab political power and hold on to it for as long as possible. The population can be divided into three non-intersecting Venn categories, based on their usefulness to a politician. They are: 

  1. Interchangeables – People who don’t have any degree of control over what happens in the nation.   
  2. Influentials- People with some degree of a say in the future regime, such Low-level bureaucrats, soldiers, and petty businessmen. 
  3. Essentials- People whose support is essential for the dictators’ success. Military chiefs of staff, heads of departments, high profile businesspeople.  

To grab and keep political power, the politician takes the support of his essential backers and they need to be paid in return, lest they support someone else. This takes money and resources. They extract the required money and resources from the normal people (In dictatorships- via coercion) and pay them to their essential backers. 

In countries with abundant natural resources, politicians can hire foreigners to extract them (usually, they do), sell them in foreign markets and earn cash. Some of that cash goes to the essentials and Influentials, while the leader pockets the rest. The natives are oppressed as their cooperation is NOT required. The leader does not need to invest in the education, infrastructure, and a functioning, independent judiciary. Since oppressed people cannot produce a surplus, these countries are often poor.  This is called a “Resource curse”.

This is the process in which dictatorships have emerged in eastern Europe and Burma. In middle eastern nations, the monarchies grew more fascistic as oil revenues grew (with some caveats). Is this the path India is taking?

Elected Autocracy or difficult democracy? 

In India, a would-be dictator or aspiring autocrat would have to solve the following problems.   

  1. We don’t have abundant natural resources.
  2. A huge and diverse population is hard to control.   
  3. Post liberalization growth is due to IT, pharmaceuticals, financial services, and other knowledge-based services. These are dependent on the skill of people. These sectors cannot grow without higher education. They are not closed extraction problems (oil drilling/fracking shale gas). They are open ended search problems which require education and training. 
  4. We have a huge property-owning, independent middle class. They are not wealthy, but not so poor to give up freedom. 

How likely are they to be solved by force? Not Very. If someone chooses to, the resulting autocracy will degrade the quality of our main exports. It will damage our economy severely, which will, limit the revenue he/she can pool. However bad the signs are, India is and probably will remain, a democracy. 

-Balasubramanyam Kanisetti

Restoring statehood of J&K now would be a mistake

It has been almost two years since the Modi government revoked Article 370, bifurcated the state of J&K, and created two Union Territories out of it. The decision at the that time came as a surprise, if not shock, to everyone. I personally was ambivalent to the revocation of Article 370, but found the stripping away of statehood of J&K particularly problematic.

Bringing a large territory under complete and direct control of Central government, not for a temporary period as an emergency measure, but as a lasting policy decision reeked of creeping authoritarianism and created a dangerous precedent. Indeed, the same script, if not in letter, then definitely in spirit, was repeated when the Delhi government was cut to size by passing the GNCTD bill.

However, the past can´t be undone, but the future is yet to unfold. Even if the stripping away of statehood of J&K was a bad decision, reversing it now would be even worse.

The government argued post the 5th August moment that a fresh leadership would arise in the state in the coming future. Revocation of Article 370 was supposed to be used as a reset for the state. 

The forces of separatism, religious radicalism, terrorism and ensuing militarization had created a vicious interplay in the Kashmiri society since at least 1985. In such a situation, attempting a complete socio-political reset of the state of J&K was a plausible idea at attempting to resolve the conflict in a lasting manner.

It is noteworthy that the Indian State and a section of Kashmiri society have been at loggerheads and are locked in a state of asymmetric and unconventional war-like conflict for the last 30 years. If conflicts of the past century, whether those between States or between States and non-State actors are considered, the conclusion is clear: lasting peace can only be negotiated with a defeated enemy. Defeat here does not mean physical defeat, rather it is psychological. One party has to accept from within that it can no longer fight, that its cause in unachievable. This leads to a psychological reorientation in the defeated party and lasting peace ensues. 

It could be seen after the Second World War, the India-China war, the Vietnam war or even the cases of insurgencies like the one in Punjab, the ones in North-East India or LTTE insurgency in Sri Lanka.

Whenever one tries to negotiate peace with an undefeated enemy, it only leads to more violence. This held true in the case of the Assam Accord, the Punjab Accord and the Sri Lankan Government-LTTE cease fire agreement of 2002 etc.

In order to produce such an ideological reset in J&K would require far more than just the revocation of Article 370. It would require effective governance and a single-minded focus on development, which would give Kashmiris a taste of rapid economic growth. That would further require root & branch restructuring of the J&K administration. All this will take a significant amount of time and can only be implemented following a roadmap which takes at least 5 years, if not more. No wonder that the Central government feels that it has not been able to achieve much on the development front in J&K, even after two years of the revocation of Article 370.  

However, granting statehood to J&K now, could dissipate whatever gains have been made on the ideological front of Kashmiris, if any. If this process is halted midway right now, not only will the supposed reset not occur, but it will lead to increased long term Kashmiri resentment, who are already angry at the revocation of Article 370 and the consequent restrictions in the state. The Kashmir insurgency will then fester on, with low-level endemic violence, but will never be fully resolved.

India would then have got the worst of both worlds, from the pre-2019 and post-2019 scenarios. 

-Yuvraj Hooda 

Also read: What is delimitation and why it is so crucial and controversial in J&K

These pieces are being published as they have been received – they have not been edited/fact-checked by ThePrint.



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