Friday, December 25, 2009

■ What Next For ULFA ?

Subir Bhaumik
After the dust has settled on the Rajkhowa episode, it is time for all sides to think about the next course forward. The Centre and the Assam government made a mess of the situation by circulating lies about Rajkhowa surrendering when he had been actually nabbed at Cox's Bazar after being tailed by the Bangladesh Detective Branch for four days. If Delhi and Dispur wished Rajkhowa to start talks, why did they seek to discredit him by circulating the falsehood of his surrender - he never surrendered. Sources in the Detective Branch and Rapid Action Battalion of Bangladesh who nabbed Rajkhowa make it clear that he was picked up in Cox's Bazar when he was planning to escape to Burma. Those who know how far Cox's Bazar will understand what I am talking about. I went to Cox's Bazar for my honeymoon in 1991, two months before the seaside resort was all but wiped out by a massive cyclone and tidal wave. I know that area thoroughly well - including the islands around it.
Rajkhowa did not realise all his four mobiles were tracked by the Detective branch - who were helped by two Indian signals intelligence experts, both working in Indian High Commission under diplomatic cover. There are some army officials in Bangladesh who are very upset with this - they think the Indian intelligence is penetrating the detective branch and working through them to track down Indian militants. Be that as it may, the long and short of the story is that Rajkhowa did not surrender. He tried to escape to Burma though his chances of getting through the Teknaf-Maungdaw border was pretty low because there's heavy presence of border guards on both sides - the BDR and the Burmese NAKASA, because the relations between Burma and Bangladesh is very tense now.
For the whole of 3rd December, the Indian officials tried to pressurise Rajkhowa to get to start talks by dropping the sovereignity demand, Delhi asked Bangladesh to send him to Assam. But by cooking up the surrender story, they have upset Rajkhowa so much that even this rather moderate rebel leader will be unwilling to start talks. The big bosses in Delhi dont often realise that this was the right time when they should have offered talks to the entire leadership - and without pre conditions. Though I cannot be totally sure, I would imagine, having spoken to Paresh Barua twice in recent weeks, that if the talks were without pre-conditions, even he would be willing to start talks.
With much of ULFA funds frozen by Bangladesh - 3990 crore BD Taka in 42 accounts of Sonali Bank- Barua might have little options. The Chinese have not promised him heavens, just given him some hope If he is not interested, why should he be apologising for Dhemaji blasts ? After so many years. Finally Delhi and Dispur have realised what a chance they have missed. Something that was set up for them on a platter by Bangladesh. The feeling now in both capitals, State and Centre, is to wait and watch.
That is the right thing to do. No hurry, no rush, no shortcuts. These things need a lot of patience and mature planning and solid groundwork. My own feeling is that Delhi and Dispur were neither prepared for this sudden breakthrough. They did not realise Bangladesh would be going so far as to nab the chairman - the feeling was they have caught Sasha Choudhury and Chitrabon Hazarika to make their case for seeking concessions before Prime Minister Hasina's visit. Indian intelligence was not aware that Hasina is not attacking the ULFA under Indian pressure - she has very good reasons to do it for ther own sake. She believes - rightly or wrongly - that the ULFA was used by Bangladesh military intelligence and the BNP to attack the Awami League rally in Dhaka in August 2004 - an attack that killed a lot of senior Awami League leaders and nearly killed her.
In 1997, Hasina started the crackdown on ULFA under Indian request. But after the arrest of Anup Chetia, some senior Awami League and Bangladeshi leftist leaders went to her and argued for sympathetic treatment for the ULFA. Their logic was simple and straight - the ULFA is fighting against Indian exploitation and for Assam's indepedence in much the same way the Bengalis in East Pakistan fought against Pakistan. The classic colonial exploitation thesis. Apparently Hasina bought the logic and did not proceed very much against the ULFA. Hasina has her own mind, her own politics and she cannot be moved very much by any kind of pressure. So after Rajkhowa's handover, Paresh Barua told me in an interview for BBC Bengali service that he did not expect the Awami League to crush "another national movement" next door and under Indian "colonial pressure." He was again pandering to Hasina's politics , which has made her support the cause of Burmese democracy and Aung Sang Suu Kyi immediately after becoming Prime Minister - at a time when democratic India is playing goodie-goodie with the generals in Rangoon.

The ULFA must realise it has lost two major trans-border base areas - Bhutan and Bangladesh. Burma's remote Sagaing does provide some hope but that's an area the ULFA does not find it easy to maintain bases. The ULFA has two options - either join up with the Indian Maoists, which the Manipuri PLA is persuading it to do , and create a broad anti-Delhi front , to continue the struggle . But Paresh Barua does not trust the Maoists very much because he senses they may hijack his struggle.
Barua is a military minded guerrilla leader. He has little patience for the Marxist-Leninist and Mao thought and all the polemical debates the Maoists engage in. He likes to keep to his politics simple. That is said to be reason why he slowly discontinued the ULFA's initial practice of political commissars. NGOs and rights activists who have been close to ULFA resent Barua's style and blame him for not allowing them to launch strong democratic struggles on local issues.
But if Barua and his field commanders are not keen on an alliance with the Maoists, I dont think they have very much choice but talk to Delhi. China has been testing the waters and they may be training a few ULFA guerrillas for limited purpose disturbance but they are still not given any indication to revive the ULFA movement in a significant way. And China does not have a direct border with Assam. As Bangladesh had with India or even Mizoram with east Pakistan.
So at the end of the day, Paresh Barua will have to deal with India - either on the table of talks with the government in Delhi and Dispur or strike an alliance with Indian Maoists, atleast for tactical reasons. The days when he or the ULFA can strike it out on their own with some foreign support is perhaps over.

Photos : AP and Reuters
( Subir Bhaumik is the BBC's East India Correspondent and a known Northeast India specialist )

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rajkhowa Drama Exposes Media, Government

By Subir Bhaumik
Last modified on : 5 December, 2009
The drama surrounding the return of ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa to Assam has exposed both the media and the government in no uncertain terms. On the day, he was picked up by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Dhaka, I reported in the BBC that Rajkhowa has been put under "house arrest" with his family members and the other ULFA men and family members. The BBC Online still has the story on its South Asia page. The story remained unchanged on the site, even as the Indian and northeastern media went berserk with wild stories. Some TV channels even gave graphic descriptions of how Rajkhowa being flown to Delhi - even the normally reliable PTI did a story from Agartala saying Rajkhowa flown to Delhi. The media were further encouraged to speculate of Rajkhowa's so-called arrival in Delhi by the Home Minister Chidambaram's parliament statement that a positive political statement was expected of the ULFA fairly soon. When one BBC duty editor drew my attention to the flurry of media reports from all over the country suggesting Rajkhowa was already in Delhi, I warned him against picking up any of those stories. This can only be explained by one startling fact - no Indian or northeastern journalist has any real worthy source in Bangladesh. I have many. One RAB colonel kept telling me - Aare Dada, ekhono amader hathe najarbandhi acche. And this friend told me on Thursday night that the whole group, including Rajkhowa and his family, were been moved towards Dawki. So on Friday morning, I alerted the BBC about the move to bring Rajkhowa to Assam.
I instantly knew Rajkhowa had not agreed to start taIks on the terms of the Indian government by accepting to drop the demand for Assam's sovereignity - as indeed Chidambaram had suggested. That is why he was been moved towards Assam, so that he could be brought to trial. Or else he would have been taken to Delhi to start talks with a grant of safe passage. But even as Rajkhowa and the other ULFA men and women were been taken towards Dawki, all the morning papers were reporting the details of talks he has already had with Indian officials in Delhi. The entire media, except myself and a few others like Bengal Newz who reported details given by me, were proved wrong - and it also became clear manufacture news and let their imagination run riot. A Kolkata based English paper even quoted unnamed officials in the Intelligence as giving graphic details about Rajkhowa's secret parleys in Delhi.
Paresh Barua spoke to me early on Friday, rejecting any talk unless the issue of Assam's sovereignity was discussed. He was hopeful that chairman Rajkhowa would not fall into Indian trap. Now those who know Barua and Rajkhowa and the chemistry between them will find it difficult to accept that Rajjkhowa can take an independent initiative.
In 1992, he did take the initiative to visit Delhi but when he and Anup Chetia returned to Dhaka, both were badly humiliated by Paresh Barua. Both Rajkhowa and Chetia were made to stand in the Buriganga and do penance for their sins (pap dubolei thio kari rakhichile Burigangat).

This time on, Rajkhowa seems to have finally backed out again. Despite being in huge trouble in Bangladesh, much of their funds frozen by Hasina's government, Rajkhowa will perhaps not take the risk of dropping the sovereidemand and start talks with Delhi.
Bangladesh wanted to hand him over on Day one after he was picked up. But Dhaka did not know where to send the ULFA chairman and his entourage To Delhi or to Assam. Because Indian intelligence officials in touch with Rajkhowa in Dhaka were trying to cajole and pressurize him into agreeing to start talks with India by dropping the sovereignity demand. For three days, the drama was unfolding in a small house in Dhaka's Gulshan locality - and not in some intelligence safehouse in Delhi as was being reported by the Indian media. That is why Rajkhowa was allowed to retain his mobile phones so that he could speak to other ULFA leaders. But since he did not get a favourable response from them and all backed Paresh Barua, the ULFA chairman had to fall in the overall party line of not talking to India unless the issue of Assam's sovereignity was included in the agenda for talks. So Delhi finally told Dhaka to send the ULFA entourage back to Assam.
And all this while my RAB colonel kept telling me the truth - that the ULFA leaders were very much in Dhaka.

Peace talks cannot be done by holding a gun to someone's head. You can interrogate someone that way but talk in such circumstances. Talks to succeedd an environment of confidence. Also no talks have worked in Northeast if the group was split. I know some senior officials in Assam and Delhi have advocated to Chidambaram the minus one formula. Isolate Paresh Barua and start talks with Rajkhowa. They dont realise Paresh Barua still commands the ULFA - inspite of all the reverses and failures. By trying to isolate Barua, these great minds of Indian administration have actually ended up isolating Rajkhowa. No accord can work unless those who sign it are capable of implementing it. And split organisations pose greater problems for resolving conflicts as all our past experiebnce in the Northeast and elsewhere in India have shown.
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi was right to say that the Naga talks happened without Phizo - so why not Assam talks without Barua. But Gogoi must look back to the fate of the 1975 Shillong Accord. It did not work. It did not lead to a settlement of the Naga problem. History have a bad habit of repeating itself.
Photos : AP, Subhamoy Bhattacharjee and BBC

( Subir Bhaumik is the BBC's East India Correspondent and a known military intelligence observer )

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ulfa, Maoist And The Nationality Question In North East India

By Subir Bhaumik
In the recently concluded Northeast DGP conference in Shillong, some senior IB officials expressed fears of the Maoist shadow extending to the Northeast. The trouble is the Maoists have already entered the Northeastern region and developed good understanding with some rebel groups here. Last year, they signed an memorandum of understanding with the PLA in Manipur - Comrade Alok of the Maoist party and Gunen Singh on behalf of the PLA signed on the memorandum. The Maoists recognised Manipur's right to independence - the PLA agreed not to attack the "Indian proletariat" (sarbohara). That means the PLA agreed not to attack poor wage labourers and brick kiln workers from Bihar and other Hindi speaking states who work in Manipur. The Maoists acepted the Manipur's right to self determination .
Similar negotiations have been now initiated with the ULFA. Senior Maoist leaders have visited the state and have had discussions with the ULFA. The reason why there has been no memorandum of understanding after these discussions is because the ULFA has so far refused to agree to the Maoist condition that they will not attack the "Indian proletariat" in Assam - meaning the ULFA's attacks on Hindi-speaking poor people must stop before a deal is possible.
It is not difficult to see why the Maoists would insist on such a condition. They have a strong support base in mainland Hindi speaking states amongst the poor people whose relatives have come to Assam looking for work. If the ULFA kills these people, the Maoists would loose support among the mainland Indian poor class in Hindi speaking states if they have links with ULFA.

The Maoists are the first Indian political force who have come forward to recognise the right to self determination for the people of Kashmir and Northeast. This is to create a favourable condition for their political inroads in this region. They know very well that in most northeastern states, the separatist insurgencies are getting weaker. If they generally take a favourable stand on the nationality question (jattisattar prasango), they think the people of Northeast will be favourable to support them in case they dont have a popular local insurgent force in their area.
That kind of an assessment is not wrong. But what will get the Maoists in trouble is the class question - the growing gap of rich and poor that is sharply increasing in the Northeast. Since this gap is increasing, it will be impossible for a Maoist party not to raise the issue. But the moment that is done, most separatist guerrilla forces in the Northeast - surely their leadership - may not like the Maoists. They would argue that the class question would dilute the unity in their societies that is crucial for a separatist struggle.
It is very difficult for the Maoists and the separatist forces in the Northeast to have a genuine political understanding unless the separatist struggles are prepared to accept the class question as an important social phenomenon.

That is why most separatist groups which thrive on ethnicity and religion will avoid the Maoists while forces like the PLA and the ULFA may be attracted to them. The PLA in the 1980s talked of "bringing down the bandit government of Delhi" - the ULFA talked of building communism on a nationalist base. The Maoists feel they can maintain relations with these forces. But they have problems with guerilla groups who talk of "Nagaland for Christ" or "Tripura for Christ". I have discussed these problems extensively in my forthcoming book "Troubled Periphery : Crisis of India's Northeast" published by Sage.
I am told Maoist leaders also met NSCN leader Muivah a few months. While Muivah talked fiercely against the Indian government for the slow progress of the Naga talks, he did not agree to break of the talks and return to the jungles. The Maoists feel that though he has not reached a settlement, he has been co-opted into the Indian system and cant break off from the talks even if he gets nothing.
So the Maoists will pick and choose their allies in the Northeast, regardless of whether the Indian government likes it nor not.

Photos : Revolutionary People's Front of Manipur, AP, Eastern Projections and Reuters
( Subir Bhaumik is the BBC's East India Correspondent and a known military intelligence observer )

Friday, November 13, 2009

Troubled Periphery : Crisis of India's Northeast

By Subir Bhaumik
[ The following is the Excerpts from Troubled Periphery : Crisis of India's Northeast ]
The Northeast has been seen as the problem child since the very inception of the Indian republic. It has also been South Asia's mostenduring theatre of separatist guerrilla war, a region where armed action has usually been the first, rather than the last, option ofpolitical protest. But none of these guerrilla campaigns have led to secession-like East Pakistan breaking off to become Bangladesh in 1971 or East Timor shedding off Indonesian yoke in 1999. Nor have these conflicts been as intensely violent as the separatist movements in Indian Kashmir and Punjab. Sixty years after the British departed from South Asia, none of the separatist movements in the northeast appear anywhere near their proclaimed goal of liberation from Indian rule. Nor does the separatist violence in the region threaten to spin out of control.
That raises a key question that historian David Ludden once tried toraise while summing up the deliberation of a three-day seminar at Delhi's elite Jawaharlal Nehru University whether the Northeast challenges the separation of the colonial from the national. Or whether it raises the possibility of reorganization of space by opening up India's boundaries. Opinion is divided. Historian Aditya Mukherjee, in his keynote address at a Guwahati seminar( 29-30 March,2009), challenged Ludden and his likes by insisting that the Indian nation evolved out a national movement against imperialism and did notseek to impose, like in the West, the master narrative of the majorityon the smaller minorities in the process of nation building. Mukherjee insisted that the Indian democracy is unique and not coercive and can accommodate the aspirations of almost any minority group. In the same seminar, Professor Javed Alam, chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, carried the argument forward by saying a new phase of democratic assertion involving smaller minorities and hitherto-marginalised groups in the new century is now opening up new vistas of Indian democracy.
But scholars from the northeast contested these 'mainland' scholars by saying their experience in the Northeast was different. They point to the endless festering conflicts, which have spread to new areas ofthe region, leading to sustained deployment of Indian army and federal paramilitary forces on 'internal security duties', that, in turn, has militarised rather than democratized the social and political space in the Northeast. These troops are deployed often against well-armed and relatively well-trained insurgents adept at the use of the hillterrain and often willing to use modern urban terror tactics for the shock effect.
It must be said that the military deployment has aimed at neutralizing the strike power of the insurgents to force them to the table, rather than seeking their complete destruction. So the rebel groups have also not been forced to launch an all-out do-or-die secessionist campaign, as the Awami League was compelled to do in East Pakistan in 1971. The space for accommodation, resource transfer and power-sharing that the Indian state offered to recalcitrant groups has helped India controlthe insurgencies and often co-opt their leadership. Now some wouldcall co-option a democratic exercise. That's where the debate goes to a point of no resolution. What many see as a bonafide and well-meant state effort to win over the rebel leadership to join the mainstream is seen by many others, specially in the Northeast, as a malafide and devious co-option process, a buying of loyalties by use of force, monetary in ducements and promise of office rather than securing it by voluntary and fair means. Interestingly, the insurgencies have only multiplied in northeast India. Whenever a rebel group has signed an accord with the Indian government in a particular state, the void has been quickly filled by other groups, reviving the familiar allegations of betrayal, neglect and alienation.
The South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) in 2006 counted 109 rebel groups in northeast India-only the state of Arunachal Pradesh was found to be without one, though Naga rebel groups were active in the state. Interestingly, only a few of these are officially banned. Of the 40 rebel groups in Manipur, only six were banned under India's Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. And of the 34 in the neighbouring state of Assam, only two were banned. A good number of these groups are described as "inactive" but some such groups have been revived from time to time. Since post-colonial India has been ever willing to create new states or autonomous units to fulfi l the aspirations of the battling ethnicities, the quest for an "ethnic homeland" and insurgent radicalism as a means to achieve it has become the familiar political grammar of the region. So insurgencies never peter out in the Northeast, even though insurgents do. Phizo faded away to make way for a Muivah in the Naga rebel space,but soon there was a Khaplang to challenge Muivah. If Dasarath Dev walked straight into the Indian parliament from the tribal guerrilla bases in Tripura, elected in absentia, there was a Bijoy Hrangkhawl to take his place in the jungle, alleging CPIM betrayal of the tribal cause. And when Hrangkhawl called it a day after ten years of blood-letting, there was a Ranjit Debbarma and a Biswamohan Debbarma, ready to take his place. Even in Mizoram, where no Mizo rebel leader took to the jungles after the 1986 accord, smaller ethnic groups like the Brus and the Hmars have taken to armed struggle in the last two decades, looking for their own acre of green grass. Throughout the last six decades, the same drama has been repeated, state after state. As successive Indian governments tried to nationalise the political space in the Northeast by pushing ahead with mainstreaming efforts, the struggling ethnicities of the region continued to challenge the 'nation-building processes', stretching the limits of constitutional politics. But these ethnic groups also fought amongst themselves, often as viciously as they fought India, drawing daggers over scarce resources and conflicting visions of homelands. In such a situation, where crisis also provided opportunity to the Indian state to use the four principles of real politicks tatecraft propounded by the great Kautilya, the man who helped Chandragupta build India's first trans-regional empire just after Alexander's invasion. Sham(Reconciliation), Dam(Monetary Inducement), Danda(Force) and Bhed(Split) - the four principles of Kautilyan statecrafthave all been used in varying mix to control and contain the violent movements in the northeast.
But unlike in many other post colonial states like military ruled Pakistan and Burma, the Indian government have not displayed an over-reliance on force. After the initial military operation in the northeast had taken the sting out of a rebel movement, an 'Operation Bajrang' or an 'Operation Rhino' has been quickly followed up by offers of negotiations and liberal doses of federal largesse, all aimed at co-option. If nothing worked, intelligence agencies have quickly moved in to divide the rebel groups. That But with draconian lawslike the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act always available to security forces for handling a breakdown of public order, the architechure of militarisation remained in place. Covert intelligence operations only made the scenario more murky, bloody and devious.
Photos : Indrajit Dutta
( Subir Bhaumik is the BBC's East India Correspondent and a known South Asian affairs observer )

Friday, October 9, 2009

Jinnah, Jaswant And The Malaysian Experience

By Subir Bhaumik
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia is a good place to reflect on the great Indian debate about the Partition - more specifically about whether Jinnah was responsible for the Partition that has now been rekindled by BJP leader Jaswant Singh's controversial book. Because as the hour of colonial withdrawal arrived, British Malaya faced a problem very similar to the one we faced in the Indian sub-continent in 1946-47. Whether the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians and other smaller racial groups could stay together in a post-colonial Malaya or whether each community would need their own distinctive homelands -
that was the million dollar question. While India had to be partitioned because the secular Congress and the pseudo-Islamic Muslim League could not work out a power-sharing arrangement, Malaya remained united because the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) straightaway worked out a coalition that has survived for sixty years now and still rules the country. So while the Muslim Malays represented in the UMNO had no problems working out coalitions and power sharing arrangements with the minority Chinese and Indians (roughly 40 percent of the population), the predominantly Hindu leadership of the Congress failed to work out something similar with the Muslim League. Primarily because they could not come to terms with the ground realities and stuck to their pretensions that the Congress represented everybody in India.
At the root of the failure of the Cabinet Mission Plan or other similar efforts to work out a deal between the Congress and the Muslim League was the refusal of the Congress leadership to recognise the fact that the Muslim League had grown in popularity and indeed represented the aspirations of many millions of Muslims in India. The Congress was a secular party and it wanted a complete monopoly of political power, so its leaders would say we represent everybody in India and have no reasons to deal with Muslim League or any other regional party. This stand of the Congress drove parties like Fazlul Haque's Krishak Praja Party in Bengal and Sikander Hayat Khan's Unionist Party in Punjab into the arms of Jinnah and pushed both Bengal and Punjab on the road to partition.

Sikander Hayat Khan was a Punjabi regionalist and governed Punjab after the 1937 elections through an alliance that included his Muslim-dominated Unionist Party, the Sikh-dominated Akali Dal and the Hindu-dominated Congress. Fazlul Haque was also a Bengali regionalist and his Krishak Praja party, though largely Muslim because Bengal's peasents were mostly Muslim, was more of a socialist party that demanded land rights for tillers of the soil and abolition of zamindari. Both these parties were initially very hostile to Jinnah because they feared his politics would divide the country. The Congress refused to accomodate Haque's Krishak Praja party because the Hindu landowners lobby in the state Congress saw it as a threat to their zamindari. In Punjab, Sikander Hayat finally broke away from the Congress during the Quit India movement because he felt a turbulent transfer of power would divide Punjab. Ironically, the reason for which Sir Sikander came to an understanding with Jinnah - to maintain Punjab's unity - was defeated ultimately in the bloodbath that turned Punjab red with the massacre of millions. All major historians who have studied this period have concluded that the Congress' failure to keep the Unionist Party in Punjab and the Krishak Praja Party in Bengal in its fold started the long road to Partition - because the Muslim League got a mass base in both these provinces when the two regional parties joined hands with Jinnah and supported the Lahore resolution for a separate Pakistan.
So Jaswant Singh has said nothing new in his book. His contention that the Congress rather than Jinnah was more responsible for the Partition has been argued by historians like Sugato Bose, Ayesha Jalal, Joya Chatterji, Suranjan Das, Leonard Gordon and a host of other historians in the last two decade. Joya Chatterji made this point in the most telling manner in her famous work "Hindu Communalism and the Partition of Bengal." But Jaswant Singh is not a historian. He is a scholar who has written other books before and his research is high quality. But he is a BJP leader and it is the apparent mismatch between his political affiliation and the contention of his book that is responsible for the high pitch controversy around Jaswant Singh's book.
But I dont see a mismatch between the two. The BJP claims to represent Hindu interests. The Muslim League would represent Muslim interests. If other similar religious parties were around in 1947, India could well have had a Malaya-type ruling coalition. No opposition, all parties co-opted into a ruling coalition and given a share of power.
What India needed in 1947 was a platform and not a monolithic, huge party that was uncomfortable sharing powers with others. The trouble , however, was that the Congress itself believed it is a platform rather than a party to back its claim to represent all Indians.
The BJP or its brand of politics thrives on the existence of parties such as Muslim League. They justify each other's existence. That's the political basis for the Malayan model.
Every major community has its own party and the nation is held together by power sharing and accomodation of the interests of the different communities. I call it the "grand coalition model" and Malaysia is the best example of it. The Grand coalition, Barisan National, provides substance to the 1Malaysia (One Malaysia) concept that is represented on huge billboards across Malaysia with a picture of three beautiful children - one Fez topi wearing Malay boy, a Chinese boy dressed in his traditional attire and a Tamil Indian girl (taller than the two) in the centre holding the two boys together. This model recognises ethnic differences and the right of the community to be represented on the democratic platform by its own political organisation.
The model that the Congress pushed in India during the crucial years before Partition - or even for many years after independence - was a one-party, one-platform model that did not work. After a while, iot became a one-leader model. It is only after the Congress weakened in the post-Nehruvian era that it reached out to coalition partners in states, even as small as little Tripura. But in Assam or Mizoram, the Congress has failed to work out power sharing deals with regional parties that grew out of movements and those parties have drifted towards the BJP or worked on their own.The Congress feels these parties can only weaken their hold amongst certain communities - so the reluctance to work out a deal with the UMF in Assam or the Peoples Conference in Mizoram.

Singapore did break away from Malaysia in 1965 because its majority Chinese population (Chinese are 77 percent of Singapore's population) because the city's rich Chinese elite wanted to leverage their strategic position for global advantage and also distance themselves from the Chinese in Malaya who had supported the Communist insurgency in the 1950s. Singapore is like Taiwan - a fiercely anti-Communist Chinese state but which never shies away from flaunting its Chinese identity. If Singapore remained in Malaya, it would mean two percent more Chinese in a Muslin Malay majority state . That was inconsistent with the ambition of Singapore's ruling Chinese elite . But even after Singapore broke away from Malaysia in 1965, the process was free of acrimony and conflict and relation between Malaysia and Singapore are pleasent. Malaysia has much tensions with its large Muslim neighbour Indonesia - the latest being caused by a extremist group that's planning to invade Malaysia to avenge the "exploitation" of Indonesian expatriate workers in Malaysia.
It is good to have a national party - or rather a few national parties - for a big country like India. But its leadership should understand the limitations caused by India's enormous diversity and realise the need for accomodation. India was partitioned not because HIndus and Muslims felt they could not live together. It was partitioned because the Muslim League and the Congress felt they could not live together and share power. Malaysia's Tunku Adbur Rehman did not write a Discovery of India like Nehru did. He actually discovered the essence of Malaysia and created a strong federation with the help of traditional rulers of fourteen Malay states . There are some who theorise, there are others who excel in practise.
Photo : PTI, BBC News, Time, The Hindu and Bengal Newz

( Subir Bhaumik is the BBC's East India Correspondent )

Friday, September 11, 2009

China Starts Backing India's North-East Rebels

By Subir Bhaumik

For several months, this has been matter of intense speculation. As India developed its "strategic relationship" with the USA, it upset China so much that our northern neighbour started planning revenge action. After all, China feels the US is using India to encircle it strategically. There has been some stray reports of ULFA leaders meeting Chinese intelligence officials since the beginning of 2008 - but they were never confirmed. Now confirmation has been received of two meetings that ULFA commander in chief Paresh Barua, Manipur PLA chairman Irengbam Bhorot and All Tripura Tiger Force chairman Ranjit Debbarma had with senior Chinese military intelligence officials this year. Following which some guerrilla fighters of ULFA and PLA have left for China 's Yunnan province for training.
Paresh Barua, ULFA C-in-C first flew to Kumming in Yunnan province from Dhaka and had two meetings with Chinese Military intelligence officials between 13-17 February this year. Then he flew into Beijing from Bangkok on 23rd May and was in the Chinese capital for four days. On both occasions, he was received by one Colonel of the Second Department of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army General Staff ( that is the Military Intelligence Directorate) who introduced himself as Xiu Rongji (but could well be pseudonym). During his trip to Beijing, Barua was taken to The "Second Department" head office, which is located at No. 21, North Andeli Street, Beijing, The place is heavily guarded but has no signboards.
Barua was accompanied by Irengbam Bhorot, chairman of PLA (Manipur). The chief of Chinese Military Intelligence Department, one Lieutenant General Guangkhai gave them audience on two occassions. The Chinese general encouraged the Northeastern rebel leaders to regroup and step up recruitment and not be weighed down by current losses and setbacks; he also promised to train new recruits and provide latest weaponry. He told the Northeastern rebel leaders that India will never do justice to the smaller nationalities because they were never Indians but were colonised by the British and handed over to India after 1947. He also denounced India as an “US lackey” and said it is no longer an independent country.
General Guangkhai’s argument sounds similar to the one in the controversial article of the website , which is the website of the the Institute for International Strategic Studies that is the research wing of the Second Department. This research institute is no independent think tank but its job is to produce for military intelligence an internal classified publication MOVEMENTS OF FOREIGN ARMIES [WAI JUN DONGTAI]. This is published every 10 days and transmitted to units at the division level.
Following the parleys between the Northeastern rebel leaders , a total of 78 ULFA and PLA rebels have left for China in three batches in June 2009 – some flew into Kumming via Nepal and Bangladesh using false passports while a group of 36 started a trek from Khonsa around 8-10 June to reach Yunnan via North Kachin Hills of Burma. These rebels are now undergoing indoctrination (brain washing) before they are put to rigorous guerrilla warfare training. The ATTF may send a smaller batch of recruits later for training in the next few months. The toughest of the guerrillas went through the Khonsa-Kachin route because they have been tasked to explore a viable land route to ensure the safe return of the trained rebels and also a safe route to bring in large consignments of weapons.
These rebels are housed in a huge sprawling camp in Tinsum county of Yunnan province - not far from the quarters of the former leaders of Burmese Communist Party, who were settled by the Chinese in that area after the BCP broke up due to factional infighting and China stopped helping them after it developed direct state-to-state relations with Burma's military regime.
It is anybody’s guess what kind of training these rebels are receiving from China but general intelligence assessment suggests they would receive extensive training in (a) guerrilla warfare (b) explosives (c) espionage (d) select assassination (e) computer and electronics communication, Though these rebels will primarily operate against Indian security forces in the Northeast, some of them may be used by the Chinese to attack important Tibetan exile leaders in Indian territory. They may do this in coordination with already-infiltrated Chinese agents operating in India.

Photos : BBC News, Revolutionary People's Front of Manipur, Wang Jianmin (Xinhua)

( Subir Bhaumik is the BBC's East India Correspondent and a known military intelligence observer )


Friday, September 4, 2009

India Should Look To European Union, Not US

By Subir Bhaumik

There are three superpowers now. The US is one. It is a military power with hegemonic designs, it wants to control the world and make it dance to its tune. The US is a settler state, aggresive and domineering, with a cowboy culture dominating its foreign policy - the only difference being B-52 bombers and Cruise missiles have replaced six-shooter pistols we see in gunfights in Western films.
The second major power now is China - a power, a mix of an ancient Oriental empire and a modern mercantilist power, that would not hesistate to use force in areas around it to enforce control but is generally more inclined to use its growing economic clout to promote its influence by huge aid packages and trade based on cheap goods. But the Chinese have enough population and wont hesistate to effect substantial transfer of its own population (as they have done in Siberia, Burma and Central Asia) to create "Little Chinas" that would serve the cause of furthering Chinese domination.
The third global power is an unique trans-national state - the European Union. With 27 member states and with a long list of countries waiting to become members, the European Union today is an empire bigger than the Roman Empire or the Macedonian empire ever was. But it is an empire that's grown by consensus - an union of nations who want to live together, even forgetting (like in the case of France and Germany) their long history of war and conflict. This is an empire based on the shared values of European civilisation, a global power that is essentially civilian in nature and perhaps with no apparent military ambitions. Now, there are those who would like to believe India can be a global power. I dont think that's possible. India has population, a growing economy, a strong military but it will always be a "swing state", one that can swing the balance in a region like South Asia. So all big powers like the US will try to cultivate India and befriend it. The main reason is India is bogged down by huge internal conflicts, ethnic and caste and class conflicts et al with the Maoist upsurge threatening to bog down huge resources and attention. Unless India can resolve these conflicts that grows out of its diversity, we will never be a big power. We could have been if we developed an union by consensus - like the European Union. As Netaji Subhas Bose had said, India should develop as a genuine union of republics. But India chose the model of a centralised British state, so we got a federation with a strong unitary bias.
Our founding fathers, specially people like Patel, felt a strong Centre will make us stronger - the reverse happened. India like Europe is a civilisation state, it can never be a nation state. The history of centralised empires in India goes to no more than 700 to 800 years - even if you put together the Guptas and Maurayas, the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals and the British. The rest of our history is the history of the regions. Multiplicity of identity is a fact of Indian life. Netaji Subhas was no less a patriot than the Patels, Nehrus and Rajendra Prasads. But when he had a better sense of Indian history than his former colleagues in the Congress. So he boldly promoted his "union of genuine republics". But you say that now and you are seen as anti-national. When we say unity in diversity, the emphasis is on unity. That's not a problem but if you are a confident union - like the European Union - you will be less than worried about unity. After sixty-two years, we are still worried about "threats to national unity" because we failed to promote a sense of shared destiny. Unions like India and Europe survive on shared civilisation values, common markets and a sense of shared destiny. They can not be held together by armies and para-military troops. India can increase its influence its power and influence by choosing the right ally and a right model. We cannot trust China and the US because both are expansionist and would not hesistate to use military force and other forms of power against us. As they say, if US is your friend, you really dont need an enemy. And China. Look at the way Chinese timber traders are raping the forest wealth of Siberia, look at the way it is transporting Chinese populations to Central Asia and Burma to make them client states and look at what it has done in Tibet and you can be sure we have no good reason to trust China. We have to deal with them, as we have to deal with the US but we can't trust either. That leaves us with Europe. My good friend, the geopolitical thinker Parag Khanna says in his great book "The Second World" that as a swing state, India must choose to befriend a major power to emerge stronger and more influential on the global scene. The European Union is our long term ally of choice. But India has this huge problem of looking at Europe through Britain and Britain is in the European Union but not quite in it. It has still not accepted the Euro and it wants tro retain its national identity and it is behaving like a surrogate of the US. India will not only have to look closely at the European model to create a new kind of union, so that we can handle the separatist tendencies and other internal conflicts - India will have to befriend the European Union as its ally of choice in the global arena in years to come.

Photos : National Archives of India, AP and Ju Peng (Xinhua)
( Subir Bhaumik is the BBC's East India Correspondent and a known strategic relation observer )