Saturday, 11 December 2010

Lincoln's dilemma , India and Arundhati Roy

Abraham Lincoln once wondered “Must a government be too strong for the liberties of its people or too weak to maintain its own existence?” That was close to 150 years back. Many generations of administrators and politicians have come and gone , the world has seen two world wars since and numerous forms of governments . Through all the wars and all these governments the question Lincoln asked still stands in face of the people who are entrusted with power and responsibility. Some governments have been guilty of excessive control on the liberties of its own people. Some of them have flourished doing so , case in point is China. While our liberal democracy struggles to bring everybody on board over issues , they seem to be cruising along efficiently . So where does the answer to Lincoln's question lie . Where does one draw the line . This is also something that must be troubling the brains in Indian government after Arundhati Roy's assessment of Kashmir's past , present and future.

Arundhati Roy , a well known author and a booker prize winner , asserted against Indian governments official stand that Kashmir was never an integral part of India and that India occupies the land through brutal and oppressive force. There has been much reported about her statements and the validity of its arguments have been discussed threadbare . On the question of Kashmir never being an integral part of India through history it has been argued that India in its present form was never seen in history. Also at one point in history Kashmir did form a part of the great Sikh empire under Raja Ranjith Singh , along with almost all of present day Pakistan and Indian Punjab. In Europe, nations kept trading territories through war or trade through out history . How do we then decide using history as the basis on which part belongs to which country . On the question of using force to subvert legitimate demands of azadi , the nationalists in India raise the question of the legitimacy of the demand and the encouragement it receives from across the border. But by all independent accounts it is observed that it is the common young man who has taken to the streets demanding azadi . Now this reminds me of another of Lincolns dilemmas , of how much and when to use force against any state which wants to secede .Does not the nation have the right to maintain its territorial integrity not only against external forces but also against internal uprisings. These questions in general and the question of Kashmir in particular is very complicated to be resolved through newspaper articles.

So far the Indian government has chosen to exercise restrain over Arundhati's case .Lawyers opine hers is a case to be tried for sedition. But the political brains suggest not acting against her lest we turn her from one of the numerous social activists into a victim and a rallying point in Kashmir. The western media too would love to report about a booker prize winner in jail and a victim of Indian brutality. There are also two more set of people with contrasting opinions . One that thinks that Arundhati has been acting as an attention seeker and this one book wonder has decided on using sensational activism as an easy way of staying in the news . The opposite view, one which I read a lot on blogs and liberal circles , is that she is brave , someone who is an intellectual and has proven her mettle by winning a booker award . Both these groups have strong arguments for their opinions. Even though the first group forms a huge majority , the ultra liberals are a strong community too . Many a times their argument drifts from Arundhati's view on Kashmir to Arundhati Roy herself. What is said and why she said so takes a back seat and what she is takes the centre stage . Even though it is important of who is saying, what is being said and it underlying factual basis should always take precedence. Politicians better than most and social workers more knowledgeable than others have been known to have gone wrong. Even though Arundhati for what she is makes the whole issue so big , but if the focus shifts from the core issue the resolution will take a lot more time to come.

For 150 years people have struggled to reach the balance Lincoln wished to know. Some have been over the line some fell short of it. We as a nation have reached somewhere near that balance . Arundhati's case , not the first of its kind and not the last , will test us and our understanding of the rule of liberal democracy . The quest for the balance is not yet over , the story of Kashmir is one of the chapters that will be read in the future by people trying to find the line between public liberty and national integrity.


PP said...

A well written piece which doesn't take sides

Nehal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nehal said...

welcome to the world of blogging :-)... one line that comes to mind after reading your post is -- "panchi,nadiya,pawan ke jhoke... koi sarhad na inhe roke" :-)...
good thoughts to ponder over.... keep them coming :-)

Shreyans Mehta said...

Nice article :) Great start to your blog :)

Matrix said...

interesting! - linking the thought of Lincoln to Kashmir. In past have come across the below thoughts of Lincoln which i guess - 1st one was Lincoln @ civil war whereas the 2nd one is @ President.

"Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable - a most sacred right - a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world"

"Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties"

which shows that likes of Lincoln have different views depending on what side of the table he/she is - hence when the line is drawn, your perception of whether it is right or wrong depends where you are!

Same applies to Kashmir - have not read the book by AR but her opinion as i understand from the blog seems to be biased. why can't she and similar so called intellectuals propose a solutions/options to resolve Kashmir issue in pragmatic way rather then re writing the facts which many ppl in past have already written in different ways..waste of time i think.

It's a era where someone needs to start thinking about concept of "World citizen" which may address the original question of Lincoln to great extent i hope!

Will be out of connectivity so will stop here! though good blog - helped to provoke my thoughts!

Keep writing...cheers.

Kartik said...

Sure, it is a tough balance to get right. Abraham Lincoln fought the American Civil War when the southern states tried to secede from the Union.
In all instances in history individual liberties were always subjugated to the liberty of a nation or a kingdom.
Can you say, your house is a different country than the land around it? Would the military might of any nation allow it? How about you openly oppose the occupation of land by your country. How about if you were a public personality who represents the country to the world?
Citizenship, like currency, is just a list of unwritten contracts, most involving sacrifice of individual liberties (like not paying taxes) in exchange for protection, organization, stabilty etc. This might just have been one unwritten rule Arundhati managed to break.

Sailesh said...

Good one... Arundhati may be right but its defeating the nations purpose of making Kashmir a integral part of India and supporting Pakistan in making a issue out of this...

A-Tam said...

Intelligently framed! Set in the present without the clutter of the past or the haze of the future.. and a very valid question to ask!