Armed forces

The Dyer Debate: Final Responses from Katju, Partha Chatterjee

In closing comments, Vivek Katju replies to Partha Chatterjee’s response to his critique of the latter’s original article on the justification the Indian army chief provided for the use of a Kashmiri civilian as a human shield.

Farooq Dar, the Kashmiri man taken hostage by an army detachment for several hours in April; Professor Partha Chatterjee; General Bipin Rawat, Indian army chief, who defended his soldiers’ use of Dar as a human shield. Credit: Twitter, YouTube, PTI

Vivek Katju’s comment on Partha Chatterjee’s response

In his response (June  12, 2017) to this writer’s submissions (June 12) on his original article ‘In Kashmir, India is Witnessing Its General Dyer Moment’ (June 2, 2017) Professor Partha Chatterjee has given more glimpses of his thinking on the Indian state’s approaches to the northeastern part of the country as well as the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. In this context he has also commented on how the army has been used in these areas.

Chatterjee again asserts that “the similarities in the language of justification stem not from the act themselves … but from a structural similarity between the two situations of military deployment”. In other words, for Chatterjee, the Indian state has acted as a colonial enterprise in the restive regions of India for only if the Indian state is so construed in these regions can structural similarities in army deployments arise. It is here that this writer fundamentally differs from Chatterjee. It is one thing to draw attention to the inadequacies in the state’s approaches and its policy mistakes in the restive regions and quite another to call it colonial in its disposition in these regions. It is because this writer holds that the structural similarities Chatterjee sees between foreign colonial enterprises and the democratic constitutional order – as the journey of the Indian state shows – do not exist that these basic differences have to be addressed before similarities in language are taken up.

Chatterjee is an authority on colonialism, nationalism and post colonialism. Who would be better placed to focus on the inherent venality and exploitation of colonialism? That essence of it could never be transformed. Thus the only option for a subject people was to throw off its yoke; hence, the validity of the struggles for independence and freedom. Surely that has not been the position in the northeast. Over the decades it is occupying greater space in the national consciousness, though much more needs to be done in this direction. There has been the enlargement of harmony and growth in the northeast through the decades too.

As for the history of the northeast, the Indian national enterprise is not co-terminus with the territorial conceptions of Aryavarta. It seeks to accommodate the aspirations of all within India while maintaining the country’s territorial integrity. Thus the focus has to be also on the validity of the terrorist groups who have continued to operate in the northeast largely as criminal enterprises.

In J&K, the fundamental fact is that till Pakistani intrusive capabilities are eliminated, no aspect or form of the Kashmir valley’s agitation against the Union is without its hand. Thus the enmeshing of the problems in Kashmir which should relate only to Delhi and Srinagar, and the external difficulties of Kashmir, which concern Delhi and Rawalpindi, is the essential cause of the continuing troubles. That was not the situation in the Punjab faced by the British colonialists before Jallianwala,  whatever may have the fanciful fears of Whitehall and its minions in India.

On the apolitical relationship between the army and political governance Chatterjee notes, “It has been the unique achievement of Indian democracy to maintain that relation”. This writer, with his diplomatic experience of armies taking control in many Third World countries (including in India’s immediate neighbourhood) can only applaud Chatterjee’s observation. There is no reason to doubt that the army’s apolitical nature will ever change.

Finally, this writer is deeply grateful to Professor Chatterjee for responding to his observations. As fellow travellers on our national journey in these contentious times we all, eminent social scientists of course but retired diplomats too, question and search for answers. That is the abiding core of our Indianness.

§

Partha Chatterjee’s closing comment

Ambassador Vivek Katju has clearly stated the differences between our positions on, first, the place of the northeastern states within the Indian political formation and, second, the role of Pakistan in influencing popular protests in Kashmir.

I believe these are fair and honest differences that are characteristic of public discussion in a democratic society.

I hope that these views that are held by many others on both sides of the debate can continue to be expressed in the same spirit of reasonableness and civility that Ambassador Katju has shown me.

Vivek Katju is a former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan and Myanmar
Partha Chatterjee is a historian and social scientist


Editor’s Note: This debate is now closed. Readers may, of course, continue to comment on the issues that this debate has raised, bearing in mind The Wire‘s guidelines.

  • Pablo Neymar

    i would not even equate any Pakistani army General with dyer. ‘Structural similarities’ starts and ends with the colour of the skin and historical sovereignty .

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    I would like to thank both Prof Chatterjee and Mr Vivek Katju for their views and the educative discussion. Both are much wiser and learned than most of us and we look to them for guidance when it comes to problems like Kashmir.

    I request Mr Katju to consider the questions raised by several readers in the comments section of his first response to Prof Chatterjee’s article, and perhaps contribute a subsequent article to The Wire outlining what he thinks should be the way forward on Kashmir.
    On your final response Mr Katju, I have two comments:

    1. “It is one thing to draw attention to the inadequacies in the state’s approaches and its policy
    mistakes in the restive regions and quite another to call it colonial in its disposition in these regions.” Ok, thats your point of view and I get that. But – do you know what the people in those regions think? What you will not call “colonial” is perhaps viewed by the ordinary folks here as precisely or very nearly so, or colonial with some caveats?

    2. “Thus the enmeshing of the problems in Kashmir which should relate only to Delhi and Srinagar, and the external difficulties of Kashmir, which concern Delhi and Rawalpindi, is the essential cause of the continuing troubles”. Again, you have completely taken the people out of the equation and are implying that if Pakistan can be stopped from doing its mischief, a solution will surely emerge. Ok, I get that too. But, WHAT is that solution? And how can any solution be found without deferring to the will of the people, whatever that be? I dont see even the slightest movement forward towards a solution, so what gives you the confidence that an end to Pakistan’s meddling shall also end Kashmir’s troubles?

    Man thanks to you both, again.

  • Amitabha Basu

    Diplomat Vivek Katju says :’There is no reason to doubt that the army’s apolitical nature will ever change.’ Really ? Is not the present government’s attempts to inject elements of its Hindutva-vaad into the armed forces, the statements of ex-Air Force chief Raha about Pakistan, senior officers paying obeisance to the image of ‘Bharat Mata’, and of course the statements of current Army chief Rawat regarding Kashmiris, their intentions and his army’s intended response to them, not clear enough indications of Hindutva politics infecting them ?

    • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

      Yes, I agree with that.
      And a more fundamental question – can the army EVER be apolitical, when the defense minister is always from the ruling party and therefore influenced by the same political pulls and pressures? “Apolitical army” seems to be an oxymoron, at least in an Indian context.

      • Amitabha Basu

        You are spot on … the army cannot be apolitical …. the only difference is that now it is tending to be openly political, whereas earlier it was usually not so open. But that is really a difference in external imagery only.

        • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

          Yes, I guess you are right. With much of the country bursting at the seams with freshly minted macho nationalistic pride, there’s nothing to be coy about regarding politicization of the army.