Monday, June 22, 2009

Lalgarh standoff - what will it achieve?

Even as I type this, the security forces are pitched in a battle against the maoist armed rebels at Lalgarh. It is not a question of whether the forces will succeed or not, its just a question of when. One can be tempted to dismiss this whole issue by saying - 'armed uprisings will never work, they will be crushed sooner or later by the Govt. machinery.' But I feel this episode throws up a larger question. If armed uprising does not work, what does?
A look at the revolutions and revolts that have shaped the history of our world can provide some pointers. Large scale uprisings (American Civil War, French Revolution, October revolution of Russia, IRA, among others) would seem to suggest that uprisings towards a separatist cause have invariably failed, while those with a call for a change have worked, even if it came a huge cost. Secondly, armed revolts that have worked have been those where the soldiers too joined the cause. The state's forces thus turned against the state itself. So there is one bit about the cause and another about the method adopted. One problem with the former is - who decides if a cause is just or not? And what happens when the cause goes haywire later - as the Taliban have proved? A lot of people I have spoken to have said that the cause of maoist rebels began as a just cause but they have now lost direction and their methods are anyway wrong now. As for the methods employed, consider Bhagat Singh, Subhaschandra Bose and Gandhi - all three believed in the same cause but chose different methods. As far as the British were concerned, it is amply clear that they looked at Bhagat Singh as a terrorist, Subhashbabu as a fascist and Gandhi as a nuisance.
I am stumped by a thought when I look at some scenarios.
1. Just last month, Sri Lankan army eliminated the LTTE decisively, giving further proof of the oft-repeated phrase, "those who live by the sword will die by the sword". Yet another armed uprising crushed.
2. Dalai Lama has led a peaceful non-violent movement against Chinese aggression in Tibet. Has it worked? The Chinese have gone about their business for the past 50 years turning a deaf ear to the world. Aung San Suu Kyi is not a very different story.
3. A much lesser publicized event. In the recent Lok Sabha elections for Baramulla, Sajjad Gani Lone became the first Kashmiri separatist leader in 20 years who contested the elections, thereby choosing the path of entering mainstream politics through democratic means. That he lost the elections is another matter.

If violence as well as non-violence doesn't seem to work, what works?

Maybe there is clue in another epoch-making event - the end of apartheid rule in South Africa, with the rise of Nelson Mandela as its President. How many people would know that Mandela established the armed wing of the African National Congress, called Umkhonto we Sizwe? His defence statement in the Rivonia trial makes compelling reading. Some remarkable statements from that -

Quote-
I hoped then that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their freedom struggle. This is what has motivated me in all that I have done in relation to the charges made against me in this case.
Having said this, I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of violence. Some of the things so far told to the Court are true and some are untrue. I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the Whites.
Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalize and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war. Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.
But White Governments remained unmoved, and the rights of Africans became less instead of becoming greater. In the words of my leader, Chief Lutuli, who became President of the ANC in 1952, and who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize:
"who will deny that thirty years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately, and modestly at a closed and barred door? What have been the fruits of moderation? The past thirty years have seen the greatest number of laws restricting our rights and progress, until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all".
We had no doubt that we had to continue the fight. Anything else would have been abject surrender. Our problem was not whether to fight, but was how to continue the fight.
At the beginning of June 1961, after a long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I, and some colleagues, came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the Government met our peaceful demands with force. This conclusion was not easily arrived at. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle, and to form Umkhonto we Sizwe. We did so not because we desired such a course, but solely because the Government had left us with no other choice.
Four forms of violence were possible. There is sabotage, there is guerrilla warfare, there is terrorism, and there is open revolution. We chose to adopt the first method and to exhaust it before taking any other decision.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Unquote -

Would Sajjad Lone be able to achieve what Mandela did? Does the answer then lie in a judicious mix of violence and non-violence? But who decides what is judicious and what is not? News reports mention that the maoist rebels are using children and women as human shields, a heinous trick they have undoubtedly learnt from the LTTE. Bloodshed is inevitable in such situations.
We are living in troubled times....

1 comment:

Shahid Mukadam said...

troubled times indeed