August 28, 2001


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Arvind Lavakare

Vigil needed with searchlights, not candles

A rather unusual decision marked the midnight that heralded India's latest Independence Day. The Government of India refused permission to Kuldip Nayar's brigade to light candles at the Wagah-Amritsar aimed at enabling what he calls, "shattering of the darkness of Indo-Pak relations."

It is for the last six years that Nayar has been at that exhibitionism of his under the banner of Hindu-Pak Dosti Manch said to comprise NGOs from different parts of the country. The exercise is part of the "people-to-people contact" movement aka Track II diplomacy with Pakistan's two armies: the regular one under the likes of commando Musharraf and the Islamic one under the likes of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

The realist millions of this nation know very well the outcome of this candlelight vigil ceremony. Pakistan just refuses to stop its firing from across the LoC in J&K, its jehadi killings in that tragic territory of ours and its perennial hate campaigns against India. It just can't be anything else when, by Nayar's own admission, 'Our counterparts in Pakistan have never been able to make the border at midnight because the government as well as the fundamentalists in that country have joined hands to stop any people-to-people contact at the border.' (The Hindu, August 17, 2001).

So is Nayar na´ve? Or is he the irrational dreamer? Or is he something else we haven't perceived -- as yet?

He certainly is what Shakespeare's Mark Antony would call 'an honourable man.' Having fled Sialkot during Partition, Nayar, the typically Punjabi, rose to the editorship of The Indian Express and thereafter to the exalted position of India's high commissioner to the UK. Today, he is a Rajya Sabha member and has some leading newspapers publishing his sizable output of articles; he is often a participant in television debates too. He has enough clout to publicly flaunt his conviction that he was the first to whom the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, A Q Khan, disclosed his achievement, to whom alone Pervez Musharraf conveyed his readiness to a cease-fire across the LoC for six months if only he, Nayar, could persuade Vajpayee to do the same. He has enough clout too to get on Vajpayee's bus to Lahore even though, a little bird says, he was first refused the honour.

Oh yes, make no mistake, Nayar is a man of some eminence. And never mind that, as an editorial in The Pioneer of July 31, 1998 pointed out, his remarks in the Rajya Sabha were expunged from the records because they were blasphemously anti-national. Never mind too that he is hyper-critical of almost any stand India takes to defend its action at Pokhran or in the war against terrorists or in the fight against pseudo-secularism. Never mind again that when replying to a letter asking him why he always heaped criticisms but never a solution of a problem, he wrote back that he was a journalist and not an activist; poor old man, he is obviously not aware of 'solutions journalism' that has caught on for some years in the US media world. That's what he really is -- out of touch with reality, with staunch patriotism etc. We should therefore just light a candle to his ego without quite a vigil on his ranting.

Another harmless man whose ego warrants no more than candlelight without vigil is I K Gujral. Like Nayar, he too is a Punjabi refugee of Partition; like Nayar, again, he is as passionate about peace with Pakistan through people-to-people contact as he is about the Congress and Communist parties' concept of 'secularism.' Like Nayar, lastly, he simply loves to be in the limelight -- either as ex-prime minister or as one who has had a library or a doctrine named after him. He is long on speeches and memories, short on action and agitations; after all, he could not win even one parliamentary election on his own standing. He is old and warrants merely tea and sympathy.

There is, however, one person and his activities whose largely unpublicised courting of peace with Pakistan is quite foreboding. He is a former chief of the Indian Navy, Admiral L Ramdas by name. He is the chairperson of a group called Pakistan-India People's Forum For Peace And Democracy that is believed to have been instrumental in organising the recent three-day peace summit at Chennai, where a horde of Pakistanis, Hurriyat leaders and, the Dalai Lama no less, spoke, and where Nirmala Deshpande of the Rajghat ritual took the lead in tying rakhis on all the guests.

PIPFPD, formed in September 1994, has now established a large base of people who have e-mail ids, including such ones as Nayar, Deshpande, a senior journalist of The Times of India and a confirmed Leftist who was, till lately, editor of the largely circulated Marathi daily from The Times' stable. It is apparently well funded, judging by the several lengthy conventions it has held so far -- at New Delhi, Peshawar, Bangalore, Lahore, Kolkata and Nagpur. What is more, each of these conventions have had 150 or more Pakistanis as delegates. Further, each of these conventions has resulted in a long, lordly 'Declaration' including recommendations.

It's these conventions and their declarations that have escaped vigil. Consider the following excerpts from the recommendations on Jammu and Kashmir made in the PIPFPD's Peshawar meet of November 1998.

'We the members of PIPFPD are deeply concerned at and condemn the atrocities committed in Kashmir by the Indian security forces against women, including rape and molestation in a systematic way, and on un-armed civilians through the use of arrest, detention and torture. We similarly condemn violations by sections of militants.

'We demand that the Government of India pull back its troops from the civilian areas and that the Pakistan government should make efforts to stop armed activities of militants in order to put an end to military and armed actions which have led to violence and violation of human rights. This must be done to make third party mediation unnecessary.

'We also ask the governments of India and Pakistan to pull back their troops immediately from Siachen since the conflict has caused loss of human lives and proved to be a burden on the exchequer of the two countries which run into thousands of millions of rupees every year.'

Notable in the above are how i Indian security forces are blatantly accused of a pogrom of crime, but terrorists are labelled as 'militant' and only 'sections' of them are, as an afterthought, condemned for mere "violations"; ii A categorical 'demand' is made of the Government of India to pull back troops from civilian areas but Pakistan is merely asked to 'make efforts to stop armed activities of militants;' iii Siachen is to be demilitarised regardless of the undisputed fact that Pak illegally developed the Karakoram Highway from Gilgit in Pak-Occupied-Kashmir to Xinjiang in China. And do Ramdas & Co at all know that just one thousand million means a billion?

Look next at the samples of what PIPFPD convention delegates speak and how the audience reacts. Below are excerpts from an account of an Indian who attended the group's Nagpur convention in April this year.

'Many speakers, including Admiral Ramdas, openly recommend demilitarisation, suspension of honours conferred on brave soldiers and recommended that the people of J&K should decide their future.

'While recommending an annulment of India's nuclear capability, someone in the audience pointed out that George Fernandes himself had opposed this four years ago.

'Some members argued that India exercised "double standards" with regard to Junagadh, Hyderabad and J&K.

'Remarks that India is holding on to J&K by force and that Indian military is torturing Kashmiri civilians were uncontested by members.

'When someone commented that Pakistan cannot be trusted, he was shouted down and he was reminded that, as a member of PIPFPD, he was pledged to peace and democracy.'

It is clear the busybee activities of Admiral Ramdas need to be put on vigil along with those of his allies like Nirmala Deshpande. And that vigil needs, not candlelight, but searchlights.

Arvind Lavakare

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