Sunday, November 11, 2007

where failure pays

Nirad C. Chaudhuri, in his otherwise stimulating article ‘India, West Bengal ‎and East Bengal’ overlooked two leaders who would disprove ‘the fact...that no ‎responsible political or military leader has ever played with the security of his ‎people when military resistance seemed irrational’. They are Napoleon and ‎Nehru. ‎
The French revolutionaries had every reason to fear that their cause ‎would not succeed: they were surrounded by monarchies bent on killing the ‎infant republic in its cradle. By all rational calculations, republicanism was bound ‎to fail. That it did not was largely the work of Napoleon. However, his astonishing ‎military successes were due to that epochal innovation in military history: the ‎National Army – a body of people dedicated to a set of ideas for which they were ‎willing to die by the thousands.‎

Again, on his return from Elba, Napoleon knew that this time, not only was ‎all Europe against him, but even his own country: he still destroyed 100,000 lives ‎on a personal gamble. ‎

In our own day, we have seen similar revolutionary wars undertaken by a ‎nation covetous of dignity and freedom against – by all rational reckoning – ‎seemingly invincible military might. Vietnam and Iran are the latest examples. As ‎Joseph Conrad said, “It is not the clear-sighted who lead the world; great ‎achievements are carried out in a warm, blessed mental fog.”‎

Therefore, pace Nirad Chaudhuri, it is not the “fact of the matter that East ‎Bengal Muslims and their leaders did not know the basic principle of seeking or ‎continuing a political conflict when faced with an overwhelming military ‎superiority of the opponent”. The fact of the matter is that there was no ‎revolutionary, national sentiment shared by the whole people. As Mr.Badruddin ‎Umar has observed, the winners of 1971 were the new elite, totally divorced from ‎the aspirations of the people. As Mr.Afsan Chowdhury has pointed out, those ‎villagers who took up arms did so to protect their homes or as a reaction to ‎violence against their villages, not for the ‘nation’. ‎

There is another parallel to the actions of Sheikh Mujib: those of Nehru ‎during the border-conflict with China. Here was a ‘responsible’ political leader ‎who had been advised by diplomats and military experts not to confront China on ‎the battlefield. He chose to ignore them. Nehru refused to negotiate; he was ‎goaded on by the political class; he firmly believed that China would not attack; ‎the army was politicised at the top and the officers were inefficient. ‎

The very possibility of Chinese retaliation for Indian provocation was ‎rejected. Without a shred of evidence, the Intelligence Bureau endorsed this ‎illogical view; those officers who questioned the assumption were shunted aside ‎to make room for more docile soldiers. And the most docile of them all was ‎General Kaul. The chief of general staff, without any combat command ‎experience, was moved to active command despite the knowledge of his total ‎unsuitability for the post! When General Thapar suggested that China might ‎counter-attack, Nehru said that he had ‘good reason to believe that the Chinese ‎would not take strong action against us’. Soon, the situation was out of his hand ‎‎– he was a pawn of the powers he had encouraged, both national as well as ‎international. ‎

Therefore, it is not the Bengali Hindu or Bengali Muslim who has 'the ‎disease’, as Nirad Chaudhuri put it. Rather, it appears to be a South Asian trait: ‎intransigence, the inability to accommodate any other point of view but mine, an ‎unrealistic appraisal of the situation – all these qualities are on abundant display ‎in South Asia. We see them at work in the Kashmir question in India, in the ‎Tamil question in Sri Lanka, and in our own domestic politics in Bangladesh. ‎

However, the real lesson of Nehru’s debacle is different. Despite losing ‎the newly-won freedom of India to China (but for Chinese forbearance), he not ‎only did not resign, there was not a murmur against his continued leadership. ‎Moreover, his daughter and his grandson went on to inherit his position. ‎Similarly, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, despite losing half the country, managed to ‎bequeath power to his daughter. The Bandaranaike family, notwithstanding the ‎fact that it was father who started the Tamil-Sinahlase division, managed to keep ‎the prime ministership as well as the presidency simultaneously in the family! Our ‎dynasties have their similar origins in fiascoes and debacles.‎

The experience of being ruled for several hundred years by foreigners ‎must have eaten away the intellectual fibre of our elites. Surely, it will take ‎several generations before we start thinking for ourselves, and not let others do ‎our thinking for us. Perhaps 60 years of ‘independence’ is not enough for ‎independent thought. How long before the slave mentality finally disappears? ‎

In South Asia, failure pays. ‎

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