What is India to Do?

Countries, like men and women, ingrain patterns of behavior.

Over the past 20 years, numerous acts of terrorism on Indian soil (and not on Indian soil alone) can be traced back to Pakistan. This is a fact, and no amount of sophistry or legerdemain will wish this away.

That India has her own problems, many of them self-inflicted and serving as ready wellsprings of internal resentment and anger providing a live recruitment ground for terrorists, does nothing to mitigate this reality.

Nor can the cry that Pakistan is itself victim to terrorism provide any solace; that would be roughly akin to a tobacco company pleading innocent in a class-action lawsuit by pointing out that its CEO too has developed emphysema.

But blaming Pakistan, while making for animated conversation at the cocktail party, can hardly suffice as policy. There is enough truth in reports that the Pakistani state is no longer in complete charge; that there are many parts of the country and many agencies of government which simply do not answer to it. Someone said during the buildup to the Iraq War that if the US was seeking to neutralize a potential nuclear threat with a proven record of harboring and succouring terrorists, it should be looking a few latitudes east of Baghdad on the map. Though said tongue in cheek, the remark was hardly empty of truth. For all of Saddam Hussain’s shortcomings, there was an Iraqi state. But Pakistan has been bereft of one for many years, one might even say since its inception [1].

What will India do?

If the Buccaneering in Bombay shone the light on Pakistan’s record of abetment, it showed up India’s weaknesses in some stark colors as well, laying low all New Delhi’s recent delusions of geostrategic grandeur in a matter of hours. The police were armed with ancient rifles; some very specific — and as it turns out, accurate — intelligence had been ignored; and amidst the glitter of the Taj, the Trident and the non-stop TV coverage, the essential feudalism of Indian society was on full display: an elite that thinks nothing of blowing hundreds of thousands of rupees at five star hotels, protected or rescued by men who were begrudged a decent bulletproof vest or a modern firearm. These men could in other circumstances have scarcely afforded to tread the lounges of the very hotels they were now scouring to rescue the beautiful folks who nominally belonged to the same country, but for all practical purposes lived on a different planet altogether.

And like the chickenhawks in the US, it is this same class of beautiful people, the nominal custodians of the country, that is clamoring for ‘strong action’, raids across the border, carpetbombing, and the like. Left unsaid in these brave tirades is a minor detail — that it is the same footsoldiers, paid a pittance, who would have to carry out the ‘strong action’, while the tinselgods on TV continue to spew invective on politics and politicians.

What is India to do?

If it has any sense, go back and read its Gandhi, Hind Swaraj in particular. For Gandhi alone grasped the fundamental premise of terrorism — that it only works if the victim allows himself to be terrorized. The first, final and decisive retort is the refusal to be afraid. “That nation is great which rests its head upon death as its pillow”, he wrote in a chapter on Passive Resistance [2]. Faced with this attitude, the terrorist loses his biggest incentive, which is to infuse fright in the population.

Lest someone should argue that Gandhi’s methods are outworn in these days post-modern days of cell phones, GPS’s and assault rifles, we should point out that Gandhi was quite conversant with the word ‘terrorism’, and that it figures in many of his writings. The reason is simple — his generation had seen terrorism first-hand — after all, the Bombay killings of 2008 and the murders in Jallianwalla Bagh of 1919 are similar — both unleasing lethal force suddenly and without provocation upon unarmed people. In the case of Jallianwalla Bagh, Gen. Reginald Dyer, who ordered the firing, answered in the affirmative when asked if his purpose was to ‘strike terror'[3]. The British repression of the 1930 Salt Satyagraha is one of the scenes shown truthfully and dramatically in the movie, “Gandhi”. ‘Terrorism’ in our time has somehow been confused with nonsense such as state and ‘non-state actors’, etc. Gandhi was a lot more clear-headed. To him, a state could be as much a terrorist as an individual and he was unafraid to label it as such.

The second part of Gandhi’s approach would be to seek justice. His statement, “My experience has shown me that we win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other party” [4] contains a wealth of wisdom. The heinousness of the attacks of Bombay should play no part in preventing an Indian soul searching of what happened in Gujarat, Kandhamal, Kashmir (both government violence and anti-Hindu violence), perhaps even stretching back to what happened in Punjab and the Sikh pogroms post Indira Gandhi’s death. A Gandhi would have spoken out against such pogroms, fasted, perhaps even died in protest. Rammanohar Lohia called a Gandhi the nation’s sentinel. The absence of one leads a nation to fall prey to its own half-truths.

Lastly, Gandhi would not care about whether someone else did right or wrong. The argument ‘But Pakistan does it’ would carry no water with him. He would insist that India not compound error (or terror) by adding its own. From initial appearances at least the Indian response, if not the rhetoric, so far has been measured and responsible.

The Mahatma would certainly not support more repressive laws, detention without trial, arrest on suspicion, etc., all of which governments of our age reach for at the slightest opportunity. Gandhi knew there could never be a bureaucratic solution to a political problem. The best line in EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful is a quote attributed to Gandhi, “We are trying to devise systems so perfect that no one would have to be good”.

The ideal Indian response would be Gandhian determination, a “No Pasaran” attitude to its enemies while retaining a fierce commitment to its own highest ideals.

* Mushkil is Hindi/Urdu for ‘difficult’.

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. He is working on a website to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Hind Swaraj, which could be called Mahatma Gandhi’s testament of faith. He can be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com.

1. The House That Jinnah Built by NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN (Dec 25, 2003)
2. Hind Swaraj by Mahatma Gandhi (Page 96)
3. The Butcher of Amritsar by Nigel Collet (Pg. 337)
4. The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Chapter XVII – Passive Resistance)




/>Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast.  His book, “Reading Gandhi In the Twenty-First Century” was published last year by Palgrave.  He may be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com.