Pakistan fixation

Print edition : November 06, 2009

Organisers and performers of the Pakistani theatre group Grips in New Delhi. A file picture. Pakistani film people or singers are feted in India in a manner that no celebrity from, say Bangladesh, can ever hope for.-V. SUDERSHAN

There was once a vain emperor who demanded that the finest clothes be made for him every day. His demands grew so exacting that one day his fashion designer brought him nothing and persuaded him that the clothes were so light and thin that even gossamer looked like linen in comparison. There, Your Majesty, he said going through the motions of putting the clothes on him. The Emperor was so pleased that he minced his way to the street and went stark naked towards his palace. No one had the courage to tell him he was actually naked till a little boy cried out, Look, Mama, the Emperor has no clothes on!

ALL of us know this story in one form or the other; one could not resist using it to describe the comment Rahul Gandhi made not very long ago in Shimla when he said that undue importance was given to, and undue time spent on, Pakistan. It was a small piece of land and there was no question of comparing it with India, he said. There were, to be sure, some concerns that it raised in our overall foreign policy, but these were being suitably dealt with.

For decades now, many have felt just that, and yet none of us has ever publicly said so. If anything, we have gone the other way and made it out to be a major concern for the country, and meetings between Indian and Pakistani leaders were treated as epoch-making events. When General Pervez Musharraf visited India and met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, practically everyone was doing handstands; every move of the General, and that of his wife, was documented, filmed, spoken of, debated and analysed. One has for a while now felt that part of our problem has been the fact that the capital of India is New Delhi, a city which is inhabited by a vast majority of people with some kind of very defined attitude or even links with Pakistan. Pakistan evokes some kind of emotional response, and Pakistani events and happenings, however inconsequential, are reported in great detail. One eminent newspaper regularly prints comments and editorials from Pakistani papers.

One does not find this kind of obsession with Nepal, for example, or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. Pakistani film people, or singers, are feted here in a manner that no celebrity from, say Bangladesh, can ever hope to be. A theatre group (I happen to be a part of it) once had a meeting where it talked in breathless excitement of actually taking a play to Pakistan for some festival organised annually, apparently, by some culturally minded family in Lahore. I never saw the same excitement about the possibility of taking a play to Colombo or Dhaka, assuming that we could. No one even thought about it.

The major reason for this is that the capital city, where policies and reactions are worked out, is in Delhi. It seems obligatory to put Pakistan and things Pakistani high up on the agenda. This would not be so if those determining all this were from areas of the country that are indifferent to Pakistan, such as the south or the east or the north-eastern region. Even parts of western India do not really have much interest in what happens in that country. And all of these regions mean a huge section of Indias people who are not, as some seem to think, resident in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana.

As Rahul Gandhi said, Pakistan is a small piece of land. It has a capacity to perpetrate mischief and vicious, murderous attacks on India, but India can and does take effective action against this. Any neighbouring country can do the same kind of thing; the difference is that some in the Pakistani establishment think, foolishly, that they can get away with it.

There are many more urgent issues that India needs to address, far larger than those of a neighbouring country that tries all kinds of things, from terrorist attacks to pouring counterfeit money into our economy in an attempt to destabilise us. Those urgent issues are, for the most part, within the country itself.

We need to rid ourselves of the complacency that we have survived for 60 years, so all must be well. All is not well; the naxalite problem is one that is testimony to that. There are still issues that need to be sorted out in the north-eastern region, not so much of insurgency now, fortunately, on the wane as of assimilation and urgent and rapid development. Above all, there is the terrible problem of poverty, rural and urban.

The tragic fact is that we know of all these problems but when it comes to doing something about it some strange paralysis sets in. Projects stagnate, schemes are mismanaged and there is that enduring scourge of corruption, which has spread like a festering sore throughout the administration. One can say with certainty that there is not one, not one municipality or municipal corporation in the country that is not infested with corruption. But that is not as wondrous as the fact that nothing has been done to eradicate it in a determined manner, not stopping until the last corrupt official is either driven out or put behind bars, and his ill-gotten goods taken away by the state.

The problem is the systems themselves. They perpetuate corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement. We should surely have realised by now that impressive commissions and committees that produce massive reports that run into several volumes are the best way to ensure nothing gets done. The simple answer is to empower some trusted persons of proven integrity to take drastic action and give them the necessary legal and other powers to enforce their decisions. There may well be some collateral damage, to use an American term that cleverly obscures the ugly and often terrible results of wrong actions, but in the circumstances that we face that is the only way forward. One that will be costly but will get results.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram has spelt out in very clear terms the manner in which the naxalite menace is going to be tackled. There will be no talks or discussions with those who do not lay down arms and abjure violence. Yes, naxalism has grown because of bad governance and indifference to the problems of the tribal people and the dispossessed. But order must be brought to the country first, and it has to be clear that it is not negotiable. Once that is established, everything else has to follow, and must follow, according to well-thought-out plans. That is where a ruthless eradication of the corrupt comes in; it has to be done immediately thereafter and systems cleansed and reorganised so that the benefits actually go to those for whom they are meant.

As for Pakistan, to quote Rahul Gandhi again, the issues arising from that countrys actions will be sorted out by the agencies concerned.

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