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.