Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966), popularly hailed as Veer Savarkar by his acolyte followers and Savarkar by his political and ideological opponents, is one of the most controversial men in modern India’s history. Since Savarkarism, a staunch form of Hindu nationalism, succeeded in appearing as a powerful current of political nationalism in India in the 1990s, not only the ideologies but the very personality of Savarkar has been subject to historical autopsy and various interpretations. There is no doubt, Savarkar became the iconoclastic bandwagon of what later came to be known as Hindutva politics in India, and to Hindutva, he is like what St. Peter the Apostle is to Christianity. It is so because the whole edifice of Hindutva politics in contemporary India is based on a partial representation of Savarkar as expressed in his 1923 book ‘The Essentials of Hindutva’, and in his numerous speeches and activities. In addition, his practical politics as expressed in Abhinav Mela and Mitra Mela later became the organisational foundation of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh which now defines Hindutva politics. Savarkar is the most authentic stepping-stone behind Hindutva politics and his commitment towards what he defined as Hindutva forced him to be tactical to submit many unconditional apologies to be released from the Andaman prison to extend his wings in the free world of Hindustan. Yet, to become the saviour of Hindu religion, Savarkar remains to be the most criticised Indian freedom fighter, and is sometimes portrayed alongside Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of Pakistan. Nothing but belligerent criticism, according to some political observations, Savarkar is also portrayed as a traitor who stood up against the Indian independence movement and apologised to the British government just to be freed from prison. It is unfortunate that a section in the Indian National Congress, especially under Nehru, too, represented Savarkar as someone who collaborated with the British Empire. Sarcastically, Indian Marxist intellectuals and leftist parties, who wish to locate the minutest apertures of socio-cultural movements and personal cults within the so-called materialist interpretations are adamant arguing that Savarkar is a Hindutva ideologue and that he collaborated with British colonialism, without the slightest mention that he was the product of an era of intensified religious tensions and his adamant commitment to Hinduism resulted in various streams of social reforms.
As a prelude, two factors need to be presented here. As Frank Anker Smith has shown, historians are not the custodians of ‘the truth of past’, instead they invent meanings and put it into interpretations suitable to their fashions and interests. Secondly, if we examine the history of British colonialism in India at least since 1757, we will be able to understand that a majority (something like 95 per cent) of middle-men, educated class, princes and political leaders have either collaborated or worked with colonial masters, and these names start from Mir Jaffar and extend to Mahatma Gandhi. About five per cent include the real heroes, if one wants to identify it so, of Indian nationalists who thought that the sacrifice of their lives would be much better than compromises. These are people like Birsa Munda, Surya Sen, Khudiram Bose, Bhagat Singh and others. This means, collaboration with the colonial state apparatus or a cluster of apology must not be the ultimate criterion to estimate or assess the life of stalwarts like Savarkar, Gandhi or Ambedkar. Doing so would be nothing but partisan and ahistorical interpretations.
Such distorted interpretations often take place in contemporary India, when we compete with each other to accuse Savarkar of collaborating with the British Empire. The problem of such distorted or partial narratives is that they forget to ask certain basic questions. For example, the way Savarkar was classified D-Class prisoner indicates that he was a danger to the British Empire. As well, why to hide the fact that many Indians of high repute had various secret engagements with colonial administrators, as demonstrated in the case of Madan Lal Dingra and the execution of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. Such distorted historical interpretations lead to contemporary political gimmicks as demonstrated by Mr. Rahul Gandhi who went to the extent of arguing that his name is not ‘Rahul Savarkar’ to offer an apology. Similarly, in my home state, Kerala, Savarkar’s name is often equated with loyalty to the British Empire, and as an ardent form of anti-communist, acerbically forgetting that Savarkar raised his voice in 1959 against the Liberation struggle to bring down E.M.S. Namboothirippad’s Communist ministry. For Savarkar, the struggle against E.M.S. Ministry was a Christian-Muslim ploy to derail what he termed as a ‘Hindu’ Ministry, though it was a communist-led ministry. Therefore, the ongoing (mis)representations of a devoted nationalist like Savarkar, for being an ideologue of Hindutva, and taking tactical but contradictory standpoints needs a balanced reading, significantly when his philosophies of Hindutva are misrepresented for partisan political purposes.
Devotion to India: Journey as a Nationalist
Savarkar was born into a Maharashtra Chitpavan Brahmin family in May 1883, hardly two months after the tragic and poverty-stricken demise of the world’s most influential philosopher, Karl Marx. If the 1880s were times of despair and political revolutions in Europe, India was going through intensifying religious polarisations, especially under the foreign yoke of British colonialism. Under it, religion was becoming a basic component of socio-personal life while the whole structure of pre-colonial social conditions was acquiring new forms. By the 1880s, Bengal and Punjab had already witnessed various forms of religious tensions, mostly between Hindus and Muslims and between Hindus and missionaries. Maharashtra, too, was not an exception to such religious confrontations though the pace of such movements was very different. Adding fuel to the already strained religious harmony, the revolution of 1857 had redefined middle-class Indians’ attitudes towards colonialism. The revolt of 1857 showed the danger of unified Hindu-Muslim power in India. As reflected in the revolt and the elevation of Bahadur Shah Zafar, who lived under the title of Mughal Emperor, symbolically, to the title of Emperor of India, the British Empire smelled danger.
However, as later history shows, the revolt of 1857 was the last major symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity. In post-riot India, religious identity can be found to take on more dangerous dimensions. The Hindutva ideologies of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and the Islamic movements led by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and a multiplicity of socio-religious issues were the hallmarks of this period, especially in the three hotspots of Bengal, Maharashtra and Punjab. The influence of the nineteenth century reform-oriented and anti-colonial religious movements such as the Brahmo Samaj, Haji Shariatullah, Wahabi and Faraizi movements were reshaped into ardent but also fervent ideologies. Hindus and Muslims had already started to alienate each other, and mutual suspicion between these communities was promoted by the colonial administration, especially after the three months that shook the British Empire in 1857.
As Savarkar was born into a communally intensified social condition, and amid an anti-colonial situation, there was no doubt that two streams of ideologies influenced him. That is how the challenges to Hinduism and the colonial rule become points of interests for Savarkar. It means that colonial social engineering, especially the ploy to divide Hindus and Muslims, created more tensions in the minds of nationalist leaders who could also realise that the Muslim response to the Bengal partition of 1905 was propelled by communal interest, anticipating what was to happen later in 1947. Nevertheless, the fact is that Savarkar led his anti-British, nationalist agitation long before the 1905 Partition of Bengal and such form of extreme nationalism was the main reason for his expulsion from the famous Ferguson College in Pune. By the term ‘extreme nationalism’ I mean nothing but his deep patriotism, especially when Congress was trying to have a dialogue with British colonialism. This indicates Savarkar began his campaign with the determination to create the thunder of independence when moderate sections of the Congress were claiming that they should cooperate with the British and move on. Therefore, he was beyond the leaders of nationalism, who wore the nationalist garb of wanting achievements and strategic cooperation.
Although expelled from Ferguson College, Savarkar had the opportunity to graduate at Gray’s Inn in London with the help of Shyamaji Krishnavarma. Savarkar arrived in London in 1906 and devoted his entire London life to the anti-British struggle. Fascinated by the Italian nationalist Mazzini’s ideas, Savarkar founded an organisation called the Free India Society and propagated Indian nationalism among Indians in London. One thing to note is that Savarkar would have conquered great heights through strategic cooperation in London if he had wanted to. However, Savarkar did not seek to do so, but instead embraced nationalism. The reason for highlighting this is to remind us that Savarkar put nationalism ahead of practical gains when the vast majority of Indians in London continued their strategic cooperation with colonial politics. That is why he decided to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the First War of Independence in 1907, and that too in London which caused a great uproar, as students marched to pay their respects to the martyrs. The result was that Savarkarism began to be considered a dangerous philosophy, and the British police kept Savarkar under a panoptical model of surveillance. Such anti-Savarkar policies intensified with the unexpected act of Madan Lal Dingra in 1909, an Indian student, who killed Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a British administrator in London. While the entire Indian community in Britain, including Jawaharlal Nehru, has either disassociated itself from or condemned the act of Dingra, partly securing their interests, Savarkar was the only one to support Dingra openly. Naturally, Savarkar was accused of instigating Dingra to murder Wyllie, though no conclusive evidence suggested so. While Dingra was given the death penalty, the life of Savarkar was becoming pathetic in London, as by this time he was branded the sole enemy of the British Empire in India. After a short stay in Paris to avoid arrest, Savarkar returned to London to get arrested in 1910. Savarkar was then deported to India for further judicial procedures which ended up with Savarkar being sentenced to life imprisonment for fifty long years in a small cell in the cellular prison in the Andaman Islands.
As noted, the 1920s were periods of intense religious conflicts in India, especially between Hindus and Muslims. Since the conflict over the partition of Bengal in 1905, the mutual animosity between Hindus and Muslims continued and reflected in various forms: the establishment of Arya Samaj, Chapetkar brother’s initiatives, and Mitra Mela and Abhinav Mela by Savarkar brothers show these intensified religious animosities. Along with these issues, the prison-centric proselytising efforts, mostly by Muslim groups, were becoming an issue in the Andaman jail. For someone like Savarkar, dangers to Hinduism within the closed walls of the cellular jail were indicators to recognise what is happening in India. Deepened worry about Hinduism might have prompted Savarkar to avoid wasting his time and energy in jail. This means, Savarkar may have been motivated to approach the British government in the form of apologies because of the perception that he must seek to return to India to save Hinduism which was going through a difficult period of caste feud, missionary influence and Islamic conversion attempts. However, this apology was just another tactic of the most dangerous Indian freedom fighter who went to London and encouraged political assassinations. Therefore, to overcome the rising political pressure and criticism in India, Savarkar was sent to India in 1921, but was sentenced to detention in Ratnagiri until 1937. As we can see, by the 1920s patriotism slowly shifted towards Hinduness in the mind of Savarkar due to his unconditional love for Hindu culture and his desire to protect it. The result was a book, titled ‘Essentials of Hindutva’ which he wrote in 1923.
If necessary, he had the opportunity to become a leader of the Congress or part of the British government, perhaps more than Nehru, by strategically playing the card of secularism and nationalism. The perfect example can be Gandhi’s strategy of Khilafat satyagraha to extend his wings to the Muslim community. Nevertheless, Savarkar, also a poet and philosopher, did not hide his love for Hindu culture from within and went ahead with courage, and that is what now appears as Hindutva alias Savarkarism. That means, through his post-cellular politics, both as an ideologue of Hindutva and the steward of Hindu Mahasabha, Savarkar laid the foundation stone of Hindu nationalism in India, and produced various, often contradictory versions of Hindutva politics which to this day continue to be prominent in India’s road towards cultural nationalism.
Savarkarism: Caste and Hindutva
Savarkar’s nationalism was a mixture of Hindu-centered cultural ideology and a reconceptualization of India’s past. While acknowledging that he was a staunch nationalist, he was also a social reformer committed to the cause of eradicating caste violence and building bridges among the various Hindu communities in India. Very interestingly, Savarkar’s ideological development towards Hindutva was shaped by a Christian named Brahma Bandhav Upadhyay, whose argument that everything in India is rooted in Hinduism profoundly influenced Savarkar. So, Savarkar’s Hindutva or Savarkarism was a mixture of various shades of Indian-ness and he wanted it to be reflected in all such aspects. There is no doubt that Savarkar’s social reforms were tainted with his political motives, but that does not lead us to forget what he did to alleviate the social problems faced by Dalits in colonial India. Savarkar’s struggles to keep temples open to the underprivileged and to eliminate caste problems often led him into conflict with the upper castes. Not only that, Savarkar initiated that lower caste Hindus should get the opportunity to educate their children. Savarkar has been at the forefront of educating underprivileged children belonging to the so-called untouchable communities. As part of his anti-caste initiatives, he regularly visited Dalit houses during festival seasons and spent time with them. The Patitpawan temple at Ratnagiri can be seen as the best example of Savarkar’s social reform efforts and anti-caste movements. Savarkar ensured equality for the lower castes in the temple’s governing body, which gave access to Hindus from all castes when the temple entry struggles led by Ambedkar had failed. It is pertinent to mention one more detail. The Ganesha festival and the pan-Indian coffee shops, started under the stewardship of Savarkar in 1930 and 1933 are the two examples of anti-caste ideology, but these transformational efforts through the participation and representation of the lower castes have not been mentioned much in the social history of India. For example, in the context of discourses of the public sphere in Europe, the famous German sociologist Habermas explains how coffee shops and salons influenced modernity transformation. Unfortunately, none of the Left-dominated Indian academic studies speaks of the pan-Indian coffee shops or its social relevance. However, Savarkar initiated that a Mahar community member should serve the food, at a time when inter-dining was impossible in India. If Indian modernity is also about questioning caste oppression and its various manifestations, there is no doubt that Savarkar had an essential role in the whole process, whether one accepts it or not. Undoubtedly, Savarkar was an advocate of a Hindu-centric political ideology, but it was always subject to change. Therefore, as far as Savarkar is concerned, Hindu culture can be interpreted in many different ways. For example, he has made statements about India’s integrity, but also supported the partition of India. Similarly, his so-called Hindutva was an amalgamation of Aryan and Dravidian cultures, which sometimes even went so far as to say that beef may be eaten if desired.
Savarkar Image in Post-Colonial India
One of the most distorted portrayals of Savarkar’s image in post-independence India was produced by Indian leftist intellectuals who accused him to be a communal fascist associated with Gandhi’s murder, though no such conclusive evidence exist. Typically, postcolonial India’s leftist circles always take what they call an anti-Hindutva stand, and argue that they oppose Sangh Parivar’s philosophy, and therefore Savarkar. Ironically, Indian lefts’ opposition to recognising Savarkar’s full role has led to an ahistorical representation of Savarkar’s leftist relationships, and how he has been praised by leftist or socialist intellectuals of international repute. For example, how do we interpret the fact that Savarkar earned a socialist image in the international anti-colonial circles in the 1920s, as demonstrated in the newspaper articles and a twenty-four-page pamphlet of Jean Longuet, the grand-son of Karl Marx, in support of Savarkar. Similarly, we seldom speak about Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s high regard for Savarkar. As expressed in the former’s instruction, one should understand three books to become a member of Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, and of these three, one was ‘The Life of Barrister Savarkar’. Most strikingly, M.N. Roy, the stalwart Indian leftist intellectual, reportedly requested to be part of a reception committee in 1937 to celebrate Savarkar’s release from Ratnagiri prison. As these situations demonstrate, Savarkar was a respected and celebrated freedom fighter, though the postcolonial Indian left obstinately rejects his contributions, while exaggerating his association with fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
There is not only white and black in history but also grey matter. That is to say, individuals like Savarkar should be considered in light of all their contradictory identities. While recognising that Savarkar had every right to dream and work for Hindutva, one must also investigate his role in shaking the British Empire as one of the longest prisoners in colonial India’s history. Of course, Savarkar’s philosophy had an evident influence on India’s Hindu-Muslim conflict, but let us not forget that the Hindu-Muslim riots caused Savarkar to become a Hindu nationalist, eventually.
Even if we reject all of Savarkar’s anti-colonial and anti-Muslim ideologies, his struggles and social reform movements, especially his efforts for the Dalit community’s upliftment, need to be further studied. Contradictory to what we usually see in Indian movies, heroes are not the seedbed of all virtues. There are also plenty of anti-heroes, who stand beyond the personalities of heroes. Unfortunately, Savarkar is a man whom a group once made an anti-hero of old heroes, both colonial and Indian, and that image remains without much change.
- Chaturvedi, V. (2019). Modi’s Philosopher: An Interview
- Nalwa, V. (2019, May 29). ‘Veer Savarkar’s crusade against caste discrimination remains under-appreciated’. The Indian Express.
- Keer, D. (1950). Veer Savarkar. Bombay: Popular Prakashan.
Modi’s Illiberal Majoritarian Democracy: a Question Mark on the Future of Indian Minorities
The word majoritarian is an adjective which relates to or constitutes a majority, majoritarian politics, or majoritarian democracy. It can be defined as a traditional political idea, philosophy or a practice according to which any decision whether political, social, or economic of an organized society should be made by a numerical majority of that society or it can be defined as a traditional political philosophy that stresses that a majority usually branded by religious, language, social class that also includes other recognizing factors of individuals in a society are subject to a level of superiority in a society because of which they have a say in every affair of a society. The concept of majoritarian dispensation in India under Narendra Modi has deep links with four other political philosophies i.e. Populism, Nationalism, Authoritarianism, and Sultanism. Before exploring Narendra Modi’s majoritarian policy of governance in India and its effects on the future of Indian minorities, I will first uncover the link of majoritarianism to political philosophies as mentioned.
A majoritarian leader is actually a populist leader who works hard for the concerns of people that who thinks are being ignored by the established elite groups in a society, and who always present himself as a new man mostly of a modest and plebeian background against old political establishment, in spite of the fact that who is a seasoned political figure, but usually not centre stage. This is exactly what Narendra Modi is, because in his 2014 election campaign, he presented himself as a new man against the Ghandi’s family’s old political system despite the fact he was CM Gujrat at that time. He also presented himself as someone who belongs to a very plebeian background that he had to work in his father’s tea shop when he was a child. Whereas, nationalism is a political idea or a philosophy that promotes and protects the interests of a particular nation, nationalism is the bedrock of most of the populists and NarendraModi is no exception. NarendraModi is a majoritarian national-populist leader who since his childhood has been the member of RSS, and now is a full time pracharak of RSS ideology that stresses that Hindu are the true and only sons of this Indian soil.
Majoritarian national- populist leaders like Narendra Modi are basically authoritarian leaders who reject political pluralism, and this is exactly what Modi is doing in India.Modi and the BJP has made it clear that no other party should compete with it, or is even needed, as indicative from its slogan of a ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ (a Congress-free India).Whereas, Sultanism is a form of authoritarian government and according to Max Weber NarendraModi is a new sultan of India who is pushing India towards illiberal democracy by rejecting all kind of civil liberties particularly of Indian Muslim minority.
Modi’s majoritarian policy of governance in India is basically the promotion of majoritarian democracy that asserts Hindus a special and superior status in India because they constitute 80.5% of total Indian population and that this majoritarian policy protests Hindutva ideology that stresses that Hindus are the only sons of this soil and that strengthen the Hindu community. This majoritarian democracy is a big question mark on India as the world biggest liberal democracy because continuous violence, rejection of civil liberties, and crimes against the minorities that are Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians have been on the increase. About 1.8 million people who are minority communities are tortured in police custody every year. The word murder of minorities has been replaced by the term encounter killings. Torture have increased to such a huge extent that it questions the credibility of the rule of law and criminal justice. Hindu nationalists are revolting all around India especially against Muslims because they are the largest minority in India constituting 13.4% of total population and because Hindus have resentment toward their religion, Christians and Sikhs are no exception to their violence because they too constitute 2.3% and 1.9% of total Indian population.
Unfortunately, India under Narendra Modi is crawling from the world’s biggest liberal democracy to illiberal majoritarian democracy which is promoting and safeguarding only Hindu’s civil rights and liberties and that which is negating minority’s civil liberties and civil rights especially rights and liberties of Muslims of India. One such example of this is the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB).Under the act, for the first time in India, religion is a basis for granting citizenship. According to some this citizenship amendment bill by BJP is an intentional act in order to marginalize Muslims from mainstream politics. In addition to this, Muslims are not only being tortured at their religious places for their religious affiliations, but they are also being tortured at their educational institutions which is evident from a video of 15 December 2020, where Delhi police brutally tortured Muslims students of Jamia Millia Islamia university.
Keeping in mind Narendra Modi’s illiberal majoritarian democracy, the future of liberal democracy or pluralistic India appears to be gloomy, where the future of Indian minorities especially Muslims is a big question mark.
CoVID-19 Control: Can Pakistan Learn From China?
It has been over a year since the first case of CoVID-19 was confirmed in Pakistan. The tally has reached 721,018 confirmed cases, 15,443 have died and 4,143 critical cases by 11thApril2021. Across many countries, since January 2020, a massive surge of research into CoVID-19 had enabled the scientific and medical community to better understand how to manage and eliminate the virus through public health interventions. Today, we have learned, CoVID-19 causes acute symptoms and death. We have learned, immunity lasts at least eight months and we also have five licensed vaccines. We have learned, the long-term effects of CoVID-19 and the morbidity attached to having this virus. We have learned, virus transmission occurs through droplets and aerosols spread through coughing, sneezing, breathing and speaking. We also have learned, stopping the spread of CoVID-19 requires people to avoid mixing though restrictions on social life. We have learned, the virus can mutate into various strains that can be more transmissible – and we also have understand cat-and-mouse game between vaccine and variants.
To alleviate the destructive effects of CoVID-19 on the economy, Pakistan has sought debt relief of slightly around $2 billion from its G20 creditors. In addition to the G20 countries, China was the largest bilateral creditor with $9 billion, followed by Japan with $5 billion. By early April 2020, when there were just about 2,000 CoVID-19 positive cases in Pakistan, the World Bank approved $200 million package to help Pakistan. Likewise, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had approved the payout of $1.386 billion as financial support to Pakistan to meet its urgent balance of payment needs halting from the CoVID-19 outbreak. Further, to support Pakistan’s public health response to the CoVID-19 and allow to meet the basic needs of the vulnerable and poor segment of society, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved $500 million emergency assistance loan to Pakistan. Similarly, The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) also provided a $650 million financial package to support Pakistan in its efforts against the CoVID-19. All these grants were provided to Government of Pakistan to assist in effective and timely action in response to the spread of the CoVID-19. The objective was to strengthen Pakistan’s public health infrastructure and to alleviate socioeconomic disruptions due to the pandemic. Despite huge grants and substantial endowments, Pakistan’s response to the CoVID-19 has been unsatisfactory. Lack of basic healthcare infrastructure, disease surveillance and management system, and inconsistent implementation of policies and SOPs resulted in the rapid and incessant spread of third-wave of CoVID-19 throughout the county.
China’s extraordinary organized and preventive risk management approach, established on coalition between government officials, virologists, epidemiologists and public health experts, has demonstrated to be successful in containing and controlling CoVID-19.The experience in China emphasized the significance of listening to science and public health experts during pandemic event. Firstly, China’s response demonstrates the value of national research and public health capability. Huge investment in research and development rendered China much better prepared for CoVID-19. China’s experience indicates the value of investing in national health and research scheme to boost laboratory capacity along with workforce. They are essential to a rapid and effective national response to health emergencies and to national health security. Secondly, a strong foundation of research and development cannot ensure effective control without powerful top-level political dedication to use science to confront the outbreak. Government and leaders must respect science, understand its significance, and act on science-based advice in a way that is best for society. Thirdly, attaining speedy and successful implementation of control measures for CoVID-19 requires extensive community engagement. Public solidarity during the CoVID-19 outbreak in China had been unprecedented. Control measures that could sacrifice personal freedom were accepted readily by the nation.
To be brief, cricket is to South Asia and football is to Europe. In fighting CoVID-19, everyone is equal. Everyone has the identical liability and shares the equal threat. The effective implementation of prevention and control measures in China is a model for Pakistan other parts of world to follow. From the beginning, a science-based, risk-informed and phased approach was taken, with a clear appreciation and enthusiasm. Today, China has restarted its economy, reopened and almost returned to normality. The key of success story is to make everybody responsible, get every single division involved and held executives accountable. These are the most prominent lessons Pakistan could learn from China at national and local levels. After the failure of “Smart-Lockdown” strategy, Pakistan needs to choose a strict strategy, should follow the example of China and continue the lockdown until the number of CoVID-19 infections is brought close to zero; the strategy should then be to maintain infection rates at very low level until vaccination is done. China’s epidemic management provides an important experience from which countries such as Pakistan can learn. This applies in particular to Pakistan, which would risk to lose many of its achievements in case of a severe third wave of the epidemic. Government of Pakistan should involve not only public health experts, virologists and epidemiologists, but also scientist and respect science advice when making any decision that is required to keep the epidemic under control. The rest of the world can also learn from China’s success in bringing outbreak under control.
United States snubs India for its excessive maritime claim
On April7, 2021, a 9,000-ton guided-missile destroyer, USS John Paul Jones (US 7th Fleet), waded (not strayed as it was deliberate) into the vicinity of India’s Lakshadweep Islands. The ship was 131 nautical miles away from India’s coast (12 nautical miles territory) but well within its exclusive economic zone (200 nautical miles, 370.4 kilometre).
The trespass by the US destroyer triggered indignation through all walks of life. It conjured up memories of the arrival of the 7th fleet during the Indo-Pak war of 1971. The fleet gave a message, loud and clear, to India that it should not dare finish West Pakistan, its long cherished desire. Even Nehru, an ostensibly liberal leader, regarded the creation of Pakistan a blunder. His rancour against Pakistan reaches a crescendo in his remarks: “I shall not have that carbuncle on my back.” (D. H. Bhutani, The Future of Pakistan, page 14). During 1971, Pakistan was a US ally. Now India is in the anti-China US-backed basket.
Yet, the `destroyer’ conjured up memory in India’s mind of `bitter’ American intervention. Congress leaders voiced surprise at the U.S. move. In a tweet, Manish Tewari said, “This never happened in the 10 years of UPA [Congress-led rule] or perhaps even before that as far as I can recall. The last time I remember it being so rather in your face was 1971 – Task Force 74 – 7th Fleet. What then happened is History. Hope the NDA/BJP shows some Oomph?” Echoing the surprise, former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, said, “And this happened when the former U.S. Secretary of State and Climate Envoy, John Kerry, was meeting Ministers in New Delhi.”
The euphoria created by US gung-ho support for Quad, and Pakistan’s exclusion from the climate conference petered out.
India’s foreign office tried to play down the event by stating that it was not a “military manoeuvre”. So, the USA was not bound to inform India about it. But, to India’s chagrin, the U.S. The Navy announced that its ship the USS John Paul Jones had carried out Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the Indian EEZ, adding that its operations had “challenged” what the U.S. called India’s “excessive maritime claims.” The U.S. defends its actions saying they were in compliance with international laws. Even Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby justified what India calls “intransigence’ by announcing the US Navy’s move was in compliance with international law. He told reporters, “I can tell you that the USS John Paul Jones, a Navy destroyer, asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Republic of the Maldives by conducting innocent passage through its territorial sea in normal operations within its exclusive economic zone without requesting prior permission. We conduct routine and regular FONOPs, as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements’.
India compelled to protest
As a face-saving gesture, India was forced to protest the U.S. decision to conduct a patrol in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the western Indian Ocean, rejecting the U.S.’s claim that its domestic maritime law was in violation of international law. India’s external-affairs ministry retorted, ‘The Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is that the Convention does not authorise other States to carry out in the EEZ and on the continental shelf, military exercises or man oeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state.’ The ministry insisted that the USS John Paul Jones was “continuously monitored” transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits.
The incident is a rare falling out between the two partners in the Quadrilateral Grouping that had recently committed to upholding freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific together.
Bone of contention
The USA shrugged off India’s ennui. According to the annual FONOP reports released by the U.S. Department of Defence for each fiscal year, the U.S. had been regularly conducting FONOPs in Indian EEZ. The FONOPs were carried out in several c continental shelves of several countries including its allies and partners. The USA regarded Indian maritime claim as “excessive” and in violation of International Law. From 2007 onwards till 2017, the U.S. carried out multiple FONOPs every year challenging “excessive” Indian maritime claims. No FONOP was carried out in 2018 and 2020 and one FONOP in 2019.
Difference of opinion is due to the fact that the USA has not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of Seas. India and China have ratified it with some reservations. But, the USA does not care a fig about provisos attached by China and India.
Ashamed of USA’s crass rebuttal, India is coining excuses to mitigate its embarrassment. To relieve pressure on Indian government, former Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash interpreted the US “trespass” as if it were a message to China that the USA has unfettered “freedom of navigation”. Prakash Tweeted
“While India ratified UNCLOS in 1995, the U.S. has failed to do it so far. For the 7th Fleet to carry out FoNOPs missions in Indian EEZ in violation of our domestic law is bad enough. But publicising it? USN please switch on IFF (Identification, friend or foe)! Prakash added FONOPs by U.S. Navy ships, “ineffective as they may be,” in South China Sea, are meant to “convey a message to China that the putative EEZ” around the artificial SCS islands is an “excessive maritime claim.” “But what is the 7th Fleet message for India?” he asked.
Might is Right
Obviously, the USA is acting upon might-is-right policy. India itself acted upon this policy to devour princely states, and annex Nepalese territory. Junagadh and Kashmir disputes are still unresolved on UN agenda. Indian Union is an artificial sally.
In its entire history India had never been a single nation, or one country, until united at gun point by the British. The artificial nature of modern India created by the British colonialists and adopted by post-colonial India generated insurgencies and separatist movements.
At the time of partition, India was in grip of virulent insurgencies and separatist movements (Dravidian South, Khalistan, Seven Sisters in the North East, so on). Wikipedia lists 68 major organizations as terrorist groups. Of them, nine are in the northeast (seven sisters states), four in the center and the east (Maoist/Naxalites), seventeen in the west (Sikh separatist groups), and thirty eight in the northwest (Kashmir). India kept afloat as a union only at the barrel of gun. The Indian army chief paid a five-day visit to Bangladesh as a prelude to conducting a massive operation against the Naxalbari militants.
UK and USA’s Diego Garcia headache
International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Chagos Islands has catapulted Indian Ocean into limelight. The ICJ `advisory’ is a blow to UK’s forcible occupation of Chagos Islands, including the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia atoll (leased out to the USA by the UK).
The ICJ President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf observed, `The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible’. The court ruled that separation of Chagos Islands from Mauritius during decolonisation in the 1960s constituted an “unlawful detachment” and was a “wrongful act”.
In 1966, the U.S. signed a secret agreement with Great Britain allowing the Pentagon to use the Indian Ocean territory as an airbase in exchange for a big discount on Polaris nuclear missiles. Three years later, hundreds of Navy Seabees arrived by ship and began pouring out two 12,000-foot runway that would become a bulwark of American Cold War strategy in the region, and a key launching pad for the first and second Gulf wars, the 1998 bombing of Iraq and invasion and carpet-bombing of Afghanistan.
The base can house more than 2,000 troops and 30 warships at a time. It has two bomber runways, a satellite spy station and facilities enabling the use of nuclear-armed submarines. It served as a CIA black site (like Guantanamo Bay) to interrogate and torture terror suspects including those from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia.
The base holds key to America’s Afghan exit plan, by year 2024, to avoid a rout at the hands of Taliban.
To India’s chagrin, the USA wants to exert its authority on Indian Ocean also. Forty seven countries have the Indian Ocean on their shores. The Indian Ocean is the third largest body of water in the world. It occupies 20 percent of the world’s ocean surface – it is nearly 10,000 kilometers wide at the southern tips of Africa and Australia and its area is 68.556 million square kilometers, about 5.5 times the size of the United States. India’s motto is ‘whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia’. Admiral Alfred T. Mahan (1840-1914) of the United States Navy highlighted the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean in these words: “whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean would be a prominent player on the international scene. The Indian peninsula (i.e. the Deccan and below) juts 1,240 miles into the Indian Ocean. 50 per cent of the Indian Ocean basin lies within a 1,000 mile radius of India, a reality that has strategic implications. Under the law of the sea, it has an exclusive economic zone of 772,000 square miles. Chennai is a mere 3,400 miles away from Perth in Australia, slightly more than the distance between New York and Los Angeles.
To dominate Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia), India established its Far Eastern Marine Command at Port Blair in the Andamans. It has developed Port Blair as a strategic international trade center and built an oil terminal and trans-shipment port in Campal Bay in the Nicobar Islands.
In diplomacy, there are no permanent friends or foes, only permanent interests. Afghan exit plan requires the USA continues to retain Diego Garcia.
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