INDIA: ANATOMY OF SEPARATISM IN A SOFT STATE.

By

Colonel Anil Athale. (Retd.)

Two events in the last month on the Northern and Eastern periphery brought home the stark fact that India indeed is a soft state. I am referring to the lynching of an alleged rapist in Nagaland and release of an instigator of ‘stone-peltersin  Jammu and Kashmir. Whatever the apologists may say, these two events showed the country in very poor light. In case of the lynching in Nagaland it was clear case of Naga xenophobia to which the Indian state surrendered. In J&K it was political expediency as well as mistaken generosity towards a criminal at who’s instigation there were riots that led to death of several children in police firing.

The two and half decade study of insurgency in India has shown that the cases of Nagaland and J&K are indeed very similar and run parallel. In both the cases the issues is neither socio-economic nor of repression but clearly political. Neither the rebel Nagas nor Kashmiri separatists accept that they are Indians. Yet in an atypical fashion we, the taxpaying Indians are expected to keep showering economic goodies on to the adamant and turbulent populace.

The latest estimates on poverty levels show that both Nagaland and J&K at 10% and 18% are way below national average of 21%. Given the fact in these poorly administered states, statistics are notoriously unreliable and that there is great incentive to magnify poverty, the actual levels are much less. To put it mildly, for being anti-national and troublesome the populations of both these states are being rewarded handsomely with more and more aid and dollops. Even the otherwise pragmatist PM like Modi could not help but harp on the economic development of these regions. The harsh truth is that no amount of economic development is going to make any dent in the separatism in these states. The less said about the so called ‘interlocutors’ report, by a bunch of Delhi armchair sociologists and gold digger journalist, the better it is. One is not relying merely on statistics, but an extensive visit to these two states some years ago showed clear signs of a prosperous population. Yet the ‘soft state’ that we have continues to treat them as ‘ Jamai or Jamaat states’ , a phrase frequently heard from soldiers who have been battling separatism in these areas! Soldiers like this author and others who have spent decades in these states have a far better understanding of the ground situation than the parachuted ‘experts’.

Anyone who doubts the truth of above assertions has to just take a trip to these border states where some development work like road construction is going on. He/she will find that virtually the entire labour force is from outside the state, generally from Bihar or UP. No local is prepared to do the backbreaking work involved as there is no real need. It will not be an exaggeration to say that but for the hard labour put in by these Indians from plains, there would be no roads in these ‘Jamai states’. 

This kind of separatism is unique to these two states as Indian nationalism has evolved to accommodate diversity and has managed to douse separatism elsewhere. None wants and expects any uniformity in India. It is also accepted that all Indians have multiple identities, ie one is a Marathi, Hindu and an Indian at the same time. This goes for all regional identities as well. But the problem in case of Nagaland and Kashmir is that their multiple identities stop at Naga & Christian in Nagaland and Muslim and Kashmiri in J&K. In both these cases the third element-Indian, is missing. This non acceptance of the minimum foundational loyalty to nation is at the root of long simmering problems in these two states.  

This Indian weakness in dealing with separatism is endemic and defies a simple explanation. One is the pernicious influence of the electronic media. The 24/7 electronic media has the knack of projecting micro issue as a macro problem. The classic case is the Delhi rape incident. It is this tendency to magnify the event that has so stymied governance that any action to enforce law is taken as an atrocity.

The media effect gets further magnified by the fact that Indian criminal justice system is close to collapse. The judiciary sticks to the principle that let 99 guilty go unpunished but one innocent should not become a victim. This problem  is further compounded by the hasty abolition of jury system in 1959. Justice in India has become technical and at the mercy of lawyers and judges. The Anglo-Saxon system of jurisprudence that we follow has thus become flawed. WE have managed to throw the baby with bathwater. If this step was not taken, justice would  have been far closer to reality rather than being reduced to cleverness of lawyers.

But rightly even these are minor issues compared to the ‘Elephant in the room’ and that is the transition from social control to state control of the society. In India traditionally peace was maintained by strong social pressures and norms rather than letter of law. Being a continuous civilization, these traditions and norms go back thousands of years. Yes, the caste system and social stagnation as well as oppression of the ‘Dalits’ was one of the consequences of this. Dr. Ambedkar was right in denouncing this stagnant social order that was inherently inequitable and unjust to Dalits. It is nobody’s case that the same social norms should prevail. But once the political and social circumstances have changed and society is in a churn, a strong state based on rule of law must replace the older system of traditional controls. It is this fact that while the old order is dead and gone, the new order is yet to be born that is at the root of myriad problems faced by the country.

Once we move away from social control and accept the rule of law administered by the state, we have to also accept that the state has a right to use coercion to run its writ. It is the reluctance of Indian intelligentsia to  accept this change that is at the root of weak Indian state. It is a social weakness that gets reflected in politics as a weak state. Till the time we understand these fundamental issues and change accordingly, stonepelters and lynch mobs will not just continue but will grow in number in near future.