Sep 28, 2023
Sep 28, 2023
The other day, a news item on a television channel caught my attention. A gentleman called Partha Chatterjee (Tag: Social Scientist and Historian) recently wrote an article titled “In Kashmir, India is Witnessing its General Dyer Moment”, on a news portal namely ‘The Wire’ triggering a nation wide controversy. On perusal, the article indeed reflects a very grim reading “There are chilling similarities between the justifications advanced for the actions of the British Indian army in Punjab in 1919 and those being offered today in defence of the acts of the Indian army in Kashmir... …There are times when one looks in the mirror and is shocked to see a face one doesn’t recognise – the repulsive face of a nasty stranger. Most Indians will find it hard to believe that as a nation state we have just arrived at our own General Dyer moment…”
The Author’s Take
Mr Chatterjee (henceforth referred as the Author) writes that a careful and detached reflection will show chilling similarities between the justifications advanced for the actions of the British Indian army in Punjab in 1919 and those being offered today, nearly a century later, in defence of the acts of the Indian army in Kashmir on the incident of 9th April, 2017 in Kashmir Valley during the by-election for the Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary constituency in which only 7% of voters showed up.. Called upon to defend a polling station against a stone-pelting crowd, Major Leetul Gogoi had Farooq Ahmad Dar, who was passing by on his motorbike, strapped to the bonnet of an army jeep and paraded through the streets for hours, supposedly to deter the crowds from throwing stones at the security forces.
Remarkably noticeable is the Author’s great love for human rights and his conviction in narrating incident as if he himself was an eye witness and his resolve in drawing analogy between the current Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat and Colonel Reginald Dyer (Temporary Brigadier-General) of British Indian Army, more popularly defined as the ‘Butcher of Amritsar’, in the modern Indian History.
While attempting to draw a parallel between the British officer and Indian Army General, The Author at one place quotes Dyer in defence of his action “…It was my duty – my horrible, dirty duty. I had the choice of carrying out a very distasteful and horrible duty or of neglecting to do my duty, of suppressing disorder or of becoming responsible for all future bloodshed. It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but one of producing a sufficient moral effect, from a military point of view, not only on those who were present but more specially throughout the Punjab. There could be no question of undue severity.” Then he crudely relates this statement of Dyer with the recent statement of Indian Army Chief on prevailing situation in Kashmir Valley on account of insurgency and external threat. Of course, the Author justifies his many absurd nuances as a careful and detached reflection in the same article.
It is part of the gory British history in India how General Dyer’s troops had fired about 1,650 rounds for almost ten minutes on an unarmed crowd of some 20,000 who gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab on 13th April, 1919 for a peaceful protest against the Rowlett Act. By official count, 379 people were killed and about 1200 wounded, but other estimates claimed that the figure of dead was over a thousand. Ironically enough, the Author finds a strong semblance with the stated incident in Kashmir on 9th April when to his view an innocent civilian Dar was summarily picked up by the Army in a very low turn over election, strapped on a jeep and paraded to save self from the stone pelting crowd.
The Author found another remarkable similarity when he wrote that the video images of the incident began to circulate in media on April 14, the same day in 1919 when the world came to know about the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Consequently, a horrified public began to ask questions forcing the army to order a court of inquiry. But even before its report could be published, General Rawat, the Army Chief, stepped in to present Major Gogoi with a certificate of commendation for his distinguished services in counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir… the same way Governor of Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer and other officials had fully backed and endorsed Dyer’s action calling him “the saviour of the Punjab.”
The subsequent narration refers to the endorsement of army’s action by some senior ministers of the Modi government indicating emergence of a new politico-military strategy to deal with the problem of Kashmir in a dirty war. The Author suggests the presence of army in Kashmir is like occupation of a conquered territory and shoots a question - When does a nation’s army start to believe that to preserve its authority, it must be feared by its own people?
In an obvious effort to air his disagreement and angst against the army and existing political set up, the author takes another dig by concluding that situation seems to be changing in India where the retired military officers are being invited to join political parties, run for elections and become ministers. The army’s exploits both within and outside the country’s borders are loudly and spectacularly projected in the media to bolster the ruling party’s hyper-nationalist ideology. To bolster his line, he also cited retired Lieutenant General H.S. Panag, reportedly a member of Aam Aadmi Party now (During Congress regime, within raging controversy he was shifted as Army Commander from the operationally important Northern Command and to less prominent Central Command.), who aired his disagreement with the way Army handled this incident.
Interestingly, the author’s introduction on Wikipedia suggests that he is a social scientist and historian, a prominent scholar in the field of postcolonial and subaltern studies and is currently a Honorary Professor at Columbia University in New York. One would expect truth with a rational and logical analysis from a scholar of this stature and not a lopsided pack of lies with absurd and scandalous analogies. It is not surprising that his write up has triggered sharp reactions from many citizens and institutions with nationalist sentiments. Ironically, the Author has preferred to stick to his gun, “I stands by what I wrote. I have nothing to say. I have written what I have written. I am not changing anything at all.”
I wonder, if it is a sheer coincidence that almost simultaneously a Senior CPI (Marxist) Leader Prakash Karat too has attacked the Army Chief citing his "unbecoming" attitude towards the Kashmir issue in an opinion piece in the party's mouthpiece. He alleged that he is towing the government's line on Kashmir, which is to "suppress" the people voicing their political protest. Karat also criticized the Army Chief for defending and commending Major Gogoi for his action in Kashmir.
Media and Public Reaction
Apart from mixed reaction and response from the politicians, electronic and print media, many citizens have given sharp reaction. A few such reactions are briefly compiled as following:
As an unbiased and conscientious citizen, I feel there is no need to be swayed away by sentiments due to the scathing attack by the Author (Mr Chatterjee) on Army and political leadership in general and Army Chief in particular out of nationalist sentiments and patriotic fervour. Instead, it would be wise and sane to dispassionately evaluate author’s write up in the light of the ground reality.
Narrative and Version of Incident
There are different and conflicting versions of Farooq Ahmed Dar (the alleged victim) and Army; other civilians and political leaders too are divided on the issue. Ironically, Umar Abdullah, the ex-CM, wrote a detailed article favouring Dar but while conceding the problem at the polling station yet ended up without a viable alternative solution.
As per Dar’s version supported by some politicians and local civilians, he was among the few civilians who casted vote in the morning that day. Later that morning, he was riding his bike to attend a condolence meeting at his brother-in-law’s house in another village when he was picked up by the army. According to him, his bike was damaged, he was thrashed severely with sticks and gun butts, tied to the jeep in almost unconscious state and paraded through several villages by the army men.
According to Indian Army, Major Gogoi received a distress call to check the security situation at a polling station in Budgam district, which was surrounded by a crowd of about 1000 to 1200 people, many of them including women and children were pelting stones and even hurling boulders from their rooftops. The Army mission was to rescue polling staff besides ensuring safety of their own men. The situation was very volatile and getting worse when they caught hold of this man (Farooq Ahmed Dar) among the stone pelting crowd and decided to use him as a shield to deter the stone pelters. Consequently, the stone pelting stopped and Army got a safe window for rescuing polling staff and security personnel.
The incident occurred on April 9, 1917 during the by-election for the Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary constituency. The election process was marred by a large scale protest and stone pelting by trouble-mongers after a boycott call given by the Hurriyat leaders of separatist faction. Eight civilians were killed in firing in different incidents that day as trouble-mongers tried to attack several polling stations resorting to arson and violence in the constituency leading to the lowest ever turnout of only about 7%. This incident received more attention and criticism when Major Gogoi was honoured by the Army Chief after conducting their internal inquiry.
Unfortunately, in this country politicians and liberals including secularists & human-right activists (credentials of many is as such questionable on various counts), are found to go to any extent so long the incident serves their own vested interests. Of course, some ignorant and immature people also tend to join the band wagon, not so much for any personal interests but more because of fascination and ill-conceived notions of freedom of speech and liberal ideas. This incident too was not an exception as is evident from reactions, comments and debate on social media and other forums on the predicted lines.
Truth Behind the Incident
Amongst the conflicting versions, the issue is finding the truth. The point is when you are neither an eye-witness nor you have benefit of the narrative or audio/video footage from a neutral source or agency to rely upon, how do you arrive at the truth. Obvious answer is that in such situations truth could at best be corroborated by the circumstantial evidences after due logical and rational analysis.
Here even the worst critics agree that there was problem at the polling station as also corroborated by similar incidents at other places in the same electoral constituency leading to several deaths in violent clashes with security personnel. Those who have some knowledge of the modus operandi of the Army, are also aware that the Indian army maintain political neutrality and do not interfere with the civil administration and political process. They carry out the assigned task during natural calamities and internal and external exigencies in their best possible way mostly through conventional and occasionally resorting to some unconventional or innovative methods. When I say this I say with a reasonable assurance in view of my own association with the Defence Services in various assignments and in senior positions for more than three decades.
In my opinion, in the instant case Major Gogoi’s action, more than any individual valour, was driven by high intelligence and understanding of the human behaviour in a given situation with several lives at stake. He was able to considerably salvage the situation and save human lives by resorting to this ordinarily unacceptable yet an uncoventional method that worked. There is no doubt that the use of force would have cost several lives and injuries in such a volatile situation.
As for which version is more reliable, it may also be remembered that the Army carries out its task without any publicity or public statement unless expressly authorized by the appropriate authority. Post event in this case too, while media was flooded with narratives and outcries from local civilians and the opposition leaders but Army spoke only once, to the point and precise. While sceptics and critics feel uninhibited in criticism, I am yet to see anyone offering any viable and better option in a given situation.
In the instant case, it appears credible in the given situation that what the Army holds is indeed true i.e. the person was from amongst the stone pelters. The only other possibility could be that he was not but then the natural query would be as to a peaceful civilian was doing what in a potentially surcharged and violent gathering involving risk of life. For those who understand the spirit and culture of the Indian army, it will be too farfetched and scandalous to say or believe that the Army would summarily pick up any innocent civilian, tie him in front of an army jeep and parade for hours in self-defence. If he was there to vote (as he maintained), reportedly, the claim of casting his vote was not supported by any sustainable evidence such as the mark of indelible ink on the finger. Similarly, despite his allegation, during and after release apparently other than tying him for a purpose, no marks or evidence was found of any torture, beating or detaining and consequent injury.
In the light of above, at best a neutral sympathiser would call it a 'collateral damage'. In difficult situations like natural calamities, civil disturbances and enemy action, at times you have to incur and accept some unintended yet calculated loss to achieve a greater objective. Besides, a larger point is who is responsible for creating such a compelling situation as to compel the army the resort to such action. Any rational person or institution would be inclined to accept the collateral damage (minimum loss of life/property) if it saves human lives and is in overall national interests.
Anatomy – Is India Witnessing its Dyer Moments?
Now coming to the Author’s take on India witnessing its Dyer moments, it would be unfair to the elderly social scientist and historian to doubt his secular credentials and concerns for the human rights. Notwithstanding above, it appears necessary to check how sustainable are the salient points made by him while visiting History to derive analogies between British Colonel Dyer and Indian General Rawat.
The Author (Mr Chatterjee) is absolutely right when he comments that most Indians will find it hard to believe that as a nation we have just arrived at our own General Dyer moment. Let me emphatically assure him that his vision and ideology is shared only by some pseudo-seculars and self-proclaimed liberals and human right activists with leftist ideology. An overwhelming majority of this country outrightly rejects the approach and ideology of the likes of the Author as is also evident from the vast criticism in media and internet.
Even at the cast of repetition, it is worth mentioning that the Author made a clever attempt in resorting to phraseology and twisting of facts while narrating the incident of 9th April, when he writes – “…called upon to defend a polling station against a stone-pelting crowd during the recent by-election in Jammu and Kashmir in which only 7% of voters showed up, Major Leetul Gogoi had Farooq Ahmad Dar, who was passing by on his motorbike, strapped to the bonnet of an army jeep and paraded through the streets for hours, supposedly to deter the crowds from throwing stones at the security forces.”
Let us truthfully try to see the facts straight:
Subsequently in the following paragraphs, the Author tries to draw a parallel between the British India’s agitation and unrest against the Rowlett Act with the stone-pelting incident of 9th April in Kashmir. He goes on to illustrate how Dyer devised innovative ways like declaration of Martial law, public flogging of civilians, enforcing crawling lane, summary trials and execution of people including public hangings to create a ‘moral effect’ on populace, then citing excerpts from General Rawat’s statement justifying Major Gogoi’s action besides trying to maintain the authority of the army over a potentially restive civilian population with his similar innovative ways. In the concluding part, he derives a structural analogy between British and Indian government when he refers deployment of the Indian army in the state under the Armed Forces Special Power Act like an occupying force in a conquered colony.
This indeed appears a farfetched and malicious comparison and considering his said scholarly status of a social scientist and historian, one would have expected a more rational and logical analogy and approach for the following considerations:
Geographic and Demographic Reality
In the rhetoric of Kashmir raised by Pakistan and a handful separatist elements in the valley often supported by Indian liberals and few political parties, people often tend to forget that Jammu & Kashmir, despite decades of Pakistan sponsored coercion and subversive activities and propaganda, is not a uniformly homogeneous land. As per 2011 census, the total land area of the state is broadly divided into three divisions; Jammu Division, Kashmir Valley Division and Ladakh Division. Kashmir valley constitutes only about 15.73% landmass while Jammu and Ladakh constitute about 25.94% and 58.33%, respectively.
About ethnic population, Kashmir valley has about 97% Muslims (a result of years of persecution of Hindus and other communities) and the remaining 3% are Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. In the Jammu Division, about 65% population is Hindu, 31% Muslim and remaining 4% Sikhs and Buddhists. Ladakh has a large district of Leh and a small Kargil of which the former has about 77% Buddhists and the latter 80% Muslim population.
Its only a part of Kashmir valley which is trouble prone and constantly in news thanks to subversive activities of Pakistan sponsored terrorists, unbecoming acts of some politicians including separatist leaders and Indian liberals with leftist ideology in the garb of secularism and human rights. The never ending propaganda talking of civil uprisings and such incidents collectively give an impression as if the entire state is disturbed and under occupation of the Indian Army.
Let Sanity Prevail to Sceptics & Critics
For sceptics and critics particularly interested politicians, liberals and secularists in current state, I would like to offer a few more points as reality bites for consideration and to clear their minds:
The history of sabotage and terrorism in the Jammu & Kashmir is dated as back as the partition of Indian in 1947, only the intensity and shape has been continuously changing. Some separatists leaders openly talk about their allegiance to the western neighbour, covertly receive funds, diverting part of it to saboteurs and stone-pelters to create unrest in parts of the state, particularly Kashmir Valley. Insurgency and terrorism in the current form sponsored by Pakistan started in late eighties of the previous century giving it a name of freedom struggle. Ironically, some politicians and liberals with leftist ideology prefer to call these incidents as popular uprising and prefer to support the handful separatists for the same raeson.
Just to recapitulate pre-independence history, Pakistan was carved out of Indian territory under direct British control at the time of independence on the basis of Two-Nation Theory. At the time of partition, British India was divided into two states namely the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan largely on the basis of contiguous Muslim and non-Muslim population. The Indian princely states were given choice either to join India or Pakistan or remain independent. Jammu and Kashmir was one princely state with the majority Muslim population and a ruler Hindu Maharaja who remained uncertain to make their choice for some time.
Taking advantage, Pakistan backed militia and tribesmen invaded the Kashmir valley to forcibly occupy and overthrow the Dogra King. This development led to Maharaja seeking urgent military assistance from the Union of India and he signed an instrument of accession on 25 October, 1947 with the Government of India. Consequently, India dispatched armed forces to fight intruders and save Kashmir. The rest of the events including intervention of the United Nations are part of the history now but crux of the issue is that the accession of Jammu & Kashmir to the Union of India was as per agreed principles and legally tenable.
Even today, there are many small units (district/inhabitations) in India with predominantly Muslim population but more divisions of country on religious lines is naturally undesirable and unacceptable. Unfortunately, some opportunist politicians and left leaning liberals prefer to have a lopsided view of ideals of the secularism, human rights and freedom of speech due to their constricted ideology and coloured vision. They see and perceive only what they want to see or perceive. Perhaps this is the reason why they are unable to appreciate the plight of Kashmiri pundits too in their own homeland.
Going a little more deeper in the history would reveal that there was a time not very long back in the human history when Kashmir Valley was inhabited totally by the Hindu population, followed by a few Buddhists and now more than 97% Muslims. Even at the time of independence, the Valley had a population of more 15% of Kashmiri Pandits who were driven away with the years of persecution in their own homeland, now living as refugees in various parts. To be fair with time and human civilization, historian need to be pragmatic and truth seeking. You cannot revert to past but you can certainly try to do justice with the present to secure future.
I do not see a rational and logical response from these liberals when innocent civilians, including woman and children are killed or property damaged by terrorists in Kashmir or elsewhere in the country. I do not see their response when Kashmiri (misguided and erring) youth and children scold, slap and kick armymen on streets while the latter exercising utmost restraint. But they will be most vocal and come out to fight in streets if any action is taken against erring students and intruders in JNU against the anti-national slogans or activities. They prefer to doubt and criticize almost every action of Army and Government be it the surgical strike to destroy terrorist camps in enemy territory, killing of hard core terrorists or routine surveillance duty to guard civilians and property. Likes of Mr Chatterjee prefer to call it an action driven by hyper-nationalism.
Even if one does not doubt their intentions, their contribution to the society and nation is zero because they are prisoners of their own thoughts and ideology that renders them biased with coloured vision, hence unable to see the other side of coin. While they will suspect and critices all acts of the Army and Government, but it’s seldom that they will come out with any viable way or solution.
Nemesis: Future of Communism
Revisiting past would reveal that the leftist ideology and communist parties was not born out of any revolution or oppression in India. Instead this was an offshoot of the popular movements in China and Russia. During the freedom movement too, the communists supported Britain because Russia was a British ally in the Second World War. Each civilization or nationality has its own critical and innate features and associated issues but the communists never really tried to associate with Indian realities. It can be said with a reasonable accuracy that they always looked up at Russia and China for inspiration, even 1962 Indo-China War was no exception. Many self proclaimed liberals in India have clear leanings towards leftist ideology and it is not surprising when Mr Chatterjee prefers to use the jargon of hyper-nationalism for the genuine love and care of the country's landmass. So, their own lack of nationalism is not something new and can be well understood when they choose to support the cause of anti-national elements in JNU, Rohit Vemula, Kashmir or Naxalite movement.
Ironically, the biggest reason for the failure of communism in India is also their lack of nationalism. There was a time when they had strong hold in West Bengal and Kerala with reasonable presence in several other states too. It is for anybody to see how fast their base has eroded in these states in the recent years and they are almost passing through a survival crisis. What the Author wrote in his highly controversial article followed by the Senior CPM Leader too casting aspersions on the role of the Indian Army in Kashmir cannot be a mere coincidence.
As wise people say, difference of opinion is the hallmark of a vibrant democracy but people do not expect men of Partha Chatterjee’s background to indulge in sophistry to prove a point which is completely devoid of facts and rationale. It only strengthen the view that the frustration of losing the ideological as well as the electoral battle over a period has forced leftist intellectuals like him to stoop to a level of distorting facts. They will resort to spreading untruth and come out with more untruths in their desperation to justify earlier untruth.
Why Army Should Not be Politicised!
The reason why I strongly urge not to drag the Army in political controversies is obvious. Currently, the only credible agency that can be fully trusted and relied upon in all situations is Indian Army. During all these years after independence, they have maintained complete political neutrality with the state irrespective of which party or parties were in power. They have faithfully served the nation as saviours and most effective institution during natural calamities, internal disturbances and external aggresion. Again they are the only institution that can be reasonably held as truely secular and unbiased in the matters of religion, cast, creed and region. Too much criticism, analysis and intervention in their working will only weaken their morale and resolve to serve the nation.
More by : Dr. Jaipal Singh