and Democracy in South Asia
Member of the National Security Advisory Board in India, vise-executive in Universal Peace Federation in India: Ambassador Krishna V Rajan:
Thank you very much. I take it that what is expected of me is a kind of "broad brush" presentation on the situation in South Asia in general and with reference to Nepal in particular. I will try my best to do this in the few minutes that I have.
My family and I have just completed a beautiful tour in Norway which is called "Norway in a nutshell", and in a sense what I am trying to do is to give you "South Asia in a nutshell". The scenery will be a little more mixed, a little more different. If I were to identify four or five major issues which will determine the wellbeing and future of South Asia’s 1.5 billion people--when I say South Asia, I include the seven original members of SAARC, and Afghanistan which has recently joined South Asia-- I would say these basic challenges are 1) how to bring in and improve democracy so that it is as inclusive as possible, 2) governance: how to improve it, make it more inclusive, make it more sensitive, 3) Whether these countries can adjust notions of nationalism and security which are quite outdated, to the reality that the destinies of the peoples of all these eight countries are interlinked. And finally, the realization has to spread, and it is not there at the moment, that the state is there to serve and protect the people, and not the other way round. I am afraid in South Asia the state expects the people to serve the state, to suffer for the state, to die for the state but the state doesn’t yet see itself as an entity which is there to serve the people.
We in India have just observed the sixtieth anniversary of our independence, last year. And the mood I would say was one of reflection rather than celebration. Undoubtedly there have been achievements. We are proud to be the world’s largest democracy. We are proud of the fact that we are now united in a way which cannot be challenged. India’s unity is not at risk. India’s political and economic integration are not at risk, it is totally irreversible. The political integration is something that perhaps even the EU, which is trying desperately to achieve it, can admire and envy. And then there is the economic growth rate: eight to nine percent, perhaps a little more, which means it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
You have heard of the slogan of "Incredible India", but I have to say that people in India, including the common man, including the villager, are very, very modest about India’s achievements. They are quite sceptical about these grand declarations of India’s achievements. In fact a few years ago in our last general election, the BJP, who were then in government, invented the slogan of "India Shining". They lost that election, because the people rejected the slogan. They were scandalized that when there are 800 million Indians who are so poor, whose basic needs are not being met, just because 300 or 350 million people are doing so well, that India is described as "shining". So basically we are quite aware of our short comings.
And if I were to summarize the shortcomings, I would say the Naxalite insurgency, which is similar to the Maoist insurgency, which has been growing all over India , it has spread is now something like one third of our entire country. And this insurgency is a result of a few factors. One is continuing social inequalities - despite the fact that the constitution says that there should not be inequalities. It is very difficult to change mindsets, so you have continuing social inequalities, you have uneven quality of governance and democracy, and you also have perhaps a shortage of leadership, which is essential even to democratically manage rising expectations.
And I think this is one of the key factors in any democracy. Democracy, as somebody said, is a utopia - it can never be perfect. But the art of managing people’s frustrations and expectations is the indicator of whether a democracy is successful or not, and there I don’t think we have been very successful. The problem of non-inclusive growth, and this is a major thing, all these years we have achieved economic growth but now we realize, that, for example, the so called depressed classes, the lower castes, dalits, muslims, women, etc.--- there are categories of people who are not getting their fair share of the cake. So that is a major preoccupation of the government and civil society in India. We are not doing too well in agriculture. We had the agricultural revolution - the green revolution - a few decades ago, which made India self-sufficient in food. Today somehow agriculture is stagnant, it is in a state of crisis for a variety of reasons. And we have fairly frequently cases of farmers committing suicide and so on.
We have a huge and growing problem of energy and security. We also have uneven relationships with our neighbours. And an unstable neighbourhood environment which creates more problems for us. So while India is very aware of the fact that it has really no entitlement to lecture to it’s neighbours, we also feel that we have a responsibility in ensuring that as India grows. India is an opportunity for it’s neighbours. And there I have to say that the South Asian scene generally has been characterised by assymetrical relationships - a psyche among our small neighbours which is not uncommon in the world, where nationalism tends to be a little self destructive. You deny yourself, you cut off your nose to spite your face. We were talking about hydro-power - for the last sixty years we have been discussing hydro power issues with Nepal. But Nepal’s nationalism, and I have to say India’s inability to manage that psyche efficiently, both are responsible for the fact that India continues to be short of power and Nepal continues to have 83,000 megawatts of hydro power potential of which perhaps maybe under 200 megawatts alone are in production. So India’s failure over several decades to factor in that psyche, in its policies so that suspicions and misconceptions of our neighbours can be removed, has also been responsible for the current situation - which is a situation marked by mutual distrust, absence of regional cooperation and any kind of substantial interdependence - of the kind that Europe has been able to achieve.
We admire and envy Europe. That a continent where countries used to routinely fight wars a few decades ago, has been completely freed of war. It is unthinkable now that Europe will have a war. We don’t have that kind of interdependence, and that is largely because of these ultra-nationalistic tendencies on the one hand and perhaps insensitive responses from India on the other. We have tried just about every trick in the diplomatic book over the years to have a stable relationship with our neighbours. When we became independent, Nehru, who was a great liberal, a man of great vision, tried to apply that liberalism to India’s neighbours. Fear of China, what was happening in Tibet, a combination of factors, led him to dilute his liberalism with good old-fashioned British- India colonial pro-consularism, I would say, towards our neighbours. With the result that suspicions towards India, instead of declining, grew. And then we had a time when we tried even slightly hegemonistic policies, stern policies, towards our neighbours, saying "Look, don’t do this - it affects our security, or else etc.": that did not work. We tried the Gujral doctrine, which is a doctrine of non-reciprocity. As a result we said to our neighbours - You tell us what you want - we will give it to you and we don’t expect any reciprocity in return . That did not work. Then there was a period of benign neglect during the BJP tenure, when the government said - "Look we are a major power. We are going to be hopefully a superpower in the not too distant future. If our neighbours don’t know how to deal with us and respect our concerns, let them do what they want to - a kind of realpolitik, which also has not worked. And now I think what has happened in India is that there is a lowering of the threshold in terms of our expectations from our neighbours. We are occupied with our own problems, our own aspirations. We are really talking more of connectivity. Building up connectivity and normal day-to-day relations with our neighbours, in the hope that things will work out.
If we look around us we see that there has been improvement on many fronts. With Pakistan, we have had, as you know, several wars. Both are nuclear weapon powers. But I think in Pakistan now there is a genuine desire for better relations. And that people are really setting the tone for a new relationship with India. There are people-to-people contacts, which are making borders slightly irrelevant. There is a trend towards real democracy which gives hope. But the fact is that there are challenges in Pakistan which Pakistan has to overcome. You have religious fundamentalism, you have a problem of terrorism, which incidentally, India, very wisely, has decided is a shared, a common problem for India and Pakistan. Gone are the days when India used to point a finger at Pakistan and say - "Look you people, you are the other, you are creating problems for us." Now India and Pakistan are discussing a common problem that they face from terrorism, and that has certainly improved the atmosphere considerably.
I would say that the prospects of another war between India and Pakistan have been very drastically reduced. I don’t think that is likely to happen, partly because of the new sense of confidence and the desires of the people on both sides of the border not to have a war. But also because of the fact that both countries now have nuclear weapons and it would be suicidal to have any kind of a conflict. However, at the end of the day the situation continues to be very dangerous and very unpredictable.
In Sri Lanka, and I am glad to see that we have our friend from Sri Lanka also here. I think India’s dilemma is, after having tried once, at the request of the Sri Lankan government, to try and mediate in the problem there- to try and intervene, and having burnt it’s fingers, India is somehow very reluctant to do so again. Although it repeatedly asked by all sides in Sri Lanka to do so. The problem in Sri Lanka is - that it is undoubtedly a democracy, a thriving democracy, but it is a democracy where the majority, by it’s own admission, has not been able to accommodate the aspirations of the Tamil minority. And that unfortunately has led to the LTTE - a major organisation committed to violence in order to achieve the fulfilment of these aspirations. As you know, only a couple of days ago, there have been tragic civilian casualties in yet another attack. The Sri Lankan government seems determined to find a military solution to this conflict, against the advice of all it’s friends, including India, including Norway - which had done a very commendable job, to create conditions for a ceasefire which is now in tatters --has postponed effectively the accommodation of the Tamil demands to some degree. India’s dilemma is how not to interfere, in fact how to assist the Sri Lankan government in its attempt to deal with the problem of terrorist violence, without encouraging it also to postpone indefinitely the need to address the aspirations and expectations of the Tamils, which unfortunately is happening.
Recently the former Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, was in Sri Lanka and he said that the International community had what he called an"R2P." - the Responsibility to Protect people, because the government, even if it is a legitimate government, is not able or not willing, to deal with the problems of ethnic violence and human rights violations on a major scale. Many countries do not subscribe to the "R2P" doctrine because they are afraid that it might be misused. As indeed is has been perhaps misused, as in places such as Iraq. But I believe there is a "R2A" for all of us. We have a right to be aware, a right to be concerned and a responsibility to act - not necessarily to intervene, so that human lives are not in danger. There I think Norway’s approach is a very commendable one.
In Nepal, which was until a few years ago, described as a failed state, something extraordinary has happened, due to a number of circumstances. The Maoists came to the conclusion that they could not win the war militarily. The king made the astonishing miscalculation of taking over all power for himself, and fighting both the political parties as well as the Maoists, and this led inevitably to this three way confrontation between the king, the Maoists and the political parties , who all hated each other, to convert this into a two way struggle between the political parties and the Maoists on the one hand and the king on the other. Today is a very historic day in Nepal. The newly elected Constituent Assembly has met. It has probably already passed a resolution declaring Nepal to be a republic. And there will be a ceremonial president , an executive prime minister who will be the Maoist Chairman Prachanda.
It is perhaps for the first time in world history that you have an ultra-left violent insurgency, without being defeated, joining the mainstream of competitive politics. Where politicians have got together and they have tried to create the conditions for a totally new country. Nepal is going to be unrecognisable in another few years. Already, until the other day, it was the only Hindu kingdom in the world. It will no longer be a kingdom from today and it will probably will no longer be Hindu in the sense that it will be a secular country - with a lot of Hindus, but it will not be a Hindu Kingdom. But more than that, it will be a federal dispensation. The attempt, I think, will be to create an inclusive governance, an inclusive democracy, where marginalized groups, groups which have been discriminated against for centuries, will hopefully have a chance to participate in the power structure. If it succeeds, and it is a big if, this will be a remarkable transition. As was said earlier there are huge challenges for Nepal and the first challenge is for the Maoists to prove that their DNA has changed and they have given up the cult of intimidation and violence. They have not done it until now. The elections might have been free, but they were not really fair. There has been a lot of intimidation, a lot of violence, a fear of the Maoists going back to the jungle, which I feel has been responsible for the vote which has brought them to power. But the onus is really on them now, and on the international community which brought about these elections , to see that Nepal moves on from having a constituent assembly, to actually having a stable inclusive governance and to having a peace process which is absolutely safe.
We know about the situation in Bangladesh where there is disillusionment with democracy. The army is really in control. There is an interim administration that says it is determined to root out corruption. But the political parties, political leaders, are still in jail and nobody knows how they can have fair and free elections unless the political leaders are also allowed to fight them. Then you have problems of religious fundamentalism, of terrorism, of migration, of poverty, which also constitute a huge question mark for that country.
Finally I will refer to Bhutan, which appears to be the shining exception in all of this because there you had an absolute monarchy with a very wise king. The former king decided that he would step down on his own, that he would have constitutional monarchy, before people started getting ideas and marching on the streets and the palace. He was immensely popular. He wasloved so much by his own people. They begged him to stay on. He refused. He in fact stepped down one year ahead of the deadline he had set for himself. The first stirrings of democracy have taken place. And in terms of cooperation with India, Bhutan is a shining example among our neighbours. Bhutan decided that it was good for its own people to have good relations with India. They have a number of power projects. And very soon Bhutan will have the fastest growing economy in South Asia.
I will not talk about Afghanistan because that is in a separate case by itself. But there I think we have to accept the fact that instability, violence, the fact that the centre does not hold, will determine the scenario in that country for some time to come.
Against this background, I would simply like to say that I personally have been arguing that we need a new paradigm for regional cooperation and cross-border policies and priorities. The scale of poverty and the deep-rooted ethnic and religious discontent throughout this region is serious. Together with the mutual distrust, the shortcomings in governance, the limited capacity of democracy that exists, the prospects for democracy where democracy does not exist. To deal with these problems conventional diplomacy has serious limitations. What we all need to do, as a departure from our previous policies, is to urgently recognize the importance of human security in parallel with the reality of conventional military security - the treaties, the agreements, the defence. There are many more people dying throughout South Asia - due to infant mortality, due to poor maternity facilities, due to HIV-AIDS, lack of drinking water, sanitation. These are the problems which are causing deaths on a scale which would make the deaths being caused by terrorism, of the so-called hard threats to security, look insignificant. We have to forget about our nationalism, forget about borders and create a situation where we first think of human beings and people, and build our security efforts, our developmental activities around them. I think the governments also have to accept that the problem is beyond them now. It is not possible just by governments getting together to have good policies and implement them sincerely and expect that these problems will recede. It is a race against time. South Asia has to do so many things so quickly that governments by themselves, even with the help of the international community may not be able to do that. It is very important that civil society is fully involved, fully empowered, and that the international community is also really working with one objective in mind, which is how to improve governance, how to build sustainable peace and how to accelerate economic growth of the inclusive kind. Dialogue and reconciliation, rather than violence as a means to resolve problems, is the bottom line.
Here I would like to mention that in the UPF, in which I have the honour to be involved, we did a number of exercises in Nepal. We went in there about three years ago, at a time when the king, the political parties and the Maoists were not talking to each other. What we said was "Let us have a series of conferences built around the theme of common problems in South Asia - whether they relate to human rights or governance or democracy etc. We used to invite the Maoists, who would not come in the beginning, but after a few of these conferences where many of us made public statements, the Maoists understood that, unlike many other conferences, we were not considering them to be a threat. And just as you said we also invited the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi to our conferences and he made a public statement which was reported in all the papers, where he said "Why are we talking about the need for the Maoists to give up violence...Why don’t we talk to the Maoists?" And the Maoists saw all of this in the media and they started attending our conferences. I think from around the fourth conference.
In the beginning they did not speak, they just listened to what the others were saying and they heard all the criticism about the Maoists and so on - from the political leaders, from the king’s people etc. But from the sixth conference onwards they began to speak, stating their point of view, talking about the need for social reform, a more equal society, an end of feudalism etc. And on the margins of these conference, sometimes with our help, they had their own little meetings, they began to know each other and to communicate with each other. Until then they were not even talking to each other.
Now in the last few months, for example, before the elections and after the elections, we have been meeting regularly with the Maoist leaders. And they are extremely positive. In between, I should say there are other things, and that is why I talk about civil society, and the importance of civil society. We had for example Mr C P Gaujrel, who is probably going to be the foreign minister, the Maoist foreign minister, who was in jail in India as a "terrorist". Nobody was willing to help him. A Gandhian lady, who is an Ambassador of Peace of the UPF, by the name of Nirmala Dershpande, she visited him in jail, repeatedly. Single-handedly she fought for his release, - argued, lobbied with the government of India, the media, etc. The other day unfortunately she passed away. She was quite senior in age and there was a Maoist gathering in Nepal where Gaujrel was in tears—and he was once a hard boiled terrorist.
And in another context, and I just want to mention this as an aside, as the new sort of thinking that fits in with the UPF philosophy - reaching out to people who you consider to be your enemies. The other day Sonia Gandhi’s daughter, Priyanka Gandhi, made a quiet unpublicized visit to a jail in South India where the one of the people accused of assassinating Rajiv Gandhi, Nalini is undergoing life imprisonment. She happens to be a mother of three or four children and Prianka met her in secret. The idea was not to publicise this, just to tell her that she had no hatred against her and to express her concern that as a mother she was having to undergo all this suffering. And this lady who was directly responsible for killing the prime minister, the father of Priyanka, was again moved to tears. So what I am trying to say is that you need a different attitude where you reach out to people who you would otherwise condemn as being dangerous etc. etc.
In Afghanistan recently there was a case of some Koreans who were abducted. And there was a representative of the UPF who went with Muslim scholars to talk to the people who had done this, who were responsible, who were holding these South Koreans. And they talked about Islam and what a great religion it was and how much it had taught the rest of the world including the West about the great human ideals of compassion, of forgiveness, of understanding, of respecting human life etc. And then this gentleman from the Taliban, he heard all of this very attentively and he said "You know I agree with you entirely but the one reason I am doing this is that my brother died at the hands of American bombardmentand that is why I hate them."
And in an other instance - this is not connected with the UPF - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, one of our great spiritual leaders, told us about his visit to Iraq, where he met all the leaders in Iraq asking them to stop the violence and the bloodshed. He talked about doing things at a human level - improving the plight of people etc. And there was only one Shia leader who said very respectfully to him "I have a lot of respect for you - please stay on here, be our guest. We get this message of peace, but don’t ask us to give up our hate, because if we give up our hatred of the Americans, then all is lost. We will be finished. They will destroy us." So there is this sense of insecurity on one side or the other. One man’s insecurity feeds the other’s, and you ultimately have this cycle of violence.
This really brings me to the concluding point, which is the UPF philosophy that the role of the individual is terribly important. That world peace has to begin with each one of us. I think that is very important, that is what Gandhi used to say. In fact if you go to his resting place in Delhi, you will find that quotation from him, where he says that "If only the individual can sacrifice himself for the family, the family for the society, the society for the state, the state for the nation, and the nation for the world, then you will have world peace, otherwise you cannot have world peace" . I think this is basically what we have been trying to say. We are one of many organisations saying this - that the world is one family. If only we could include everyone, including the faith-based organisations, who sometimes tend to be left out because today all of us tend to be secular. India is also a secular country. I think we have made the mistake of assuming that because we as individuals or as policy makers or as an elite, because we are secular - that there is no room for God for our people. Whereas the truth is that the vast majority of people will listen to a religious leader rather than to a politician. So I think in our own way we have also been trying to bring in all the faith organisations together and contribute towards the building of a more peaceful world.