1962 AND THE McMAHON LINE SAGAby Claude Arpi. Lancer Publishers, New Delhi, 2013.
IN his book, On China, Henry Kissinger writes that before launching the 1962 border war with India, Mao Zedong summoned his top generals and political leaders in October that year to Beijing. In order to boost their morale, give them courage and lift their confidence, Mao pointed to China’s earlier victories in wars with India. Mao marvelled that throughout history India and China had fought only ‘one and a half’ wars. According to Mao, the first war was fought more than 1,300 years ago during the Tang dynasty. The ‘half war’ took place 700 years later in 1398 when Timur invaded India, sacking Delhi and slaughtering 100,000 prisoners. According to Mao, this was a ‘half war’ because Timur and his army were Mongols from both Inner and Outer Mongolia, which then was a part of China, making this war ‘half’ Chinese. Unlike the earlier devastation China is supposed to have meted out to India, this time Mao urged his generals to ensure that their soldiers were ‘restrained and principled’ in the war that the People’s Republic of China was about to launch against independent India.
Mao’s advice to his generals to make sure that the PLA soldiers exercise ‘restraint’ could have been his way of stating that the war he was planning against India might be a cakewalk for China. However, to claim other nations’ past deeds as China’s own flies against the face of logic and history. This old habit of China remains a cause of bitterness and seething resentment. The two current flashpoints in the world are the South China Sea and East China Sea. China’s claims on the tiny outcrops of rocks above the seas and rich resources beneath them are disputed by most of the nations of Southeast Asia and Japan. China’s claims on an island in the possession of Japan has already undermined the two neighbours’ hugely profitable trade relations. China’s recent act of stamping other nations’ passports with a map depicting the disputed territories as Chinese possessions has provoked retaliatory actions from neighbours, including India.
To lay claims on territories or stretches of water, no matter how dubious, is one thing. But to make claims by appropriating other people’s history, however slight the supposed association with China, is rewriting history to serve the rulers’ political ambitions. Mao’s re-writing of history to suit the political ambitions of China and Henry Kissinger repeating this lie is fully and convincingly exposed by Claude Arpi in his book on the border war between the two Asian giants in 1962.
According to Claude Arpi, this is what really happened during China’s ‘first war’ with India. ‘In fact this event illustrates the power of the Tibetan empire at the time of the Tang dynasty. After the pilgrim Xuanzang returned to China in 642 AD, he briefed the Emperor on the state of the Dharma in India and the patronage of the great Indian King Harshavardharna for the Buddhist faith. To thank King Harsha, the Chinese Emperor decided to send a new mission to India under Wang-hiuen-tse. The mission left China in 646, but by the time it reached India Harshavardhana had passed away a few months earlier. As the king had no son, one of his ministers, Arjuna, had ascended to the throne. Unfortunately, Arjuna was not well disposed towards Buddhism and when the Chinese envoy and his thirty-man escort reached his palace they were slaughtered, with the exception of Wang and one of his ministers who managed to escape to Nepal, from where he sent a message to the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo who decided to immediately dispatch an army of 12,000 Tibetan troops and 7,000 Nepalis. After a short battle in Hirahati in Bihar, Arjuna was deposed and King Kama Rupa of Assam was enthroned. The Emperor of China was so grateful to Songtsen Gampo for his prompt action that he asked his subjects to build a statue of the Tibetan king on his own tomb.’
Such rich and riveting details shed new light on the Sino-Indian war on the Indo-Tibetan border. Scholars and historians on both sides of the border and elsewhere will welcome this tome as a major contribution to the growing literature on the 1962 border war. Scholars now and in the future will consider this important book a treasure trove on how one nation’s international demise led to the war between the two most populous countries in the world.
The great virtue of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga is that it brings Tibet and the Chinese occupation of Tibet to the centrality of the dispute between India and China. Some scholars consider Tibet peripheral and an irritant in the relations between India and China. In this assumption these scholars are doing a disservice to, if not deliberately misleading, policymakers and the public on the real cause of war between the world’s two most populous nations.
In fact, before 1962, there were no wars between India and China, two great civilizations that held sway in much of Asia. This is because separating the two was an independent Tibet. Tibet is the world’s highest and largest plateau, covering an area of 2.5 million square kilometres, with an average elevation of more than 4,000 metres thrusting up above sea level. The plateau snakes, snarls and stretches across 2,400 kilometres from east to west and 1,448 kilometres from north to south. Its entire southern rim is flanked by the Himalaya, the word’s highest mountain chain. This enormous buffer physically separated the two civilizations from coming to blows. In fact, Claude Arpi writes, before the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet, Tibet’s 2,400 kilometre long border with India, Nepal and Bhutan was totally unguarded. Merchants and pilgrims from both sides crossed the border freely without any restrictions.
Claude Arpi says, ‘The more one digs into this question, the more one discovers that it is deeply, intimately linked with the history of modern Tibet, particularly the status of the Roof of the World as a de facto independent nation.’
Elsewhere this reviewer has pointed out that the 1962 war between India and China might be traced to the British control of India. Western dominance of the world had thrown up two empires competing for spheres of influence. The Great Game, or the Tournament of Shadows, was a strategic rivalry between the British and Russian empires for the mastery of Central Asia. ‘From the British perspective, the Russian Empire’s expansion into Central Asia threatened to destroy the "jewel in the crown" of the British Empire, India. The British feared that Afghanistan would become a staging post for a Russian invasion of India.’1
By the 1890s, the Central Asian states, one after the other, became Russian vassals. That was the reason for British India’s move against Tibet. Or, as Claude Arpi says, ‘Each story has a beginning, ours starts in 1904 in Tibet.’
‘With Central Asia in the Tsar’s grip, the Great Game now shifted eastward to China, Mongolia and Tibet. In 1904, the British invaded Lhasa, a pre-emptive strike against Russian intrigues and secret meetings between the 13th Dalai Lama’s envoy and Tsar Nicholas II.’2 The 13th Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia and China.
The invading British army found no evidence of any Russian influence in Tibet. However, the greatest impact of the British invasion of Tibet was felt in Manchu China. Throughout its history, China faced threats from the marauding nomads of the vast, open grasslands of Mongolia and Manchuria who usurped the Chinese imperial throne and established their own dynasties. In the 19th century, China faced a new threat from beyond the oceans in the form of western colonial powers, who, joined by a fast-rising Japan, exacted humiliating trade and territorial concessions from a crippled Manchu empire. In view of the constant threats to China from the grasslands of Mongolia and now this new threat from beyond the oceans, China continued to look at Tibet as an effective buffer and its ‘secure backyard’. The British breach of the buffer disabused Manchu China of this notion.
With the breach of the buffer, an enfeebled Manchu China was convinced that the British might mount an invasion of China through Tibet. The only way to prevent this from happening was to take control of Tibet. As one Manchu official put it, ‘Tibet is the buttress on our national frontiers – the hand, as it were, which protects the face.’3
The man selected to invade Tibet was general Zhao Erfeng who occupied eastern Tibet in 1906 and marched to Lhasa in 1910, ‘only to find that the Dalai Lama had fled, this time to India, together with his leading ministers.’4 Manchu China’s invasion of Tibet brought about a collapse of the key operating principle of Central Asian diplomacy. The priest-patron relationship, which Tibet developed with the Mongols and the Manchus, both of whom embraced Tibetan Buddhism, was based on the priests of Tibet providing spiritual ministry to the emperor of the day, who in turn provided protection and security to the realm of his priest. This form of diplomacy, or what this writer calls ‘Tiblomacy’, never anticipated the possibility that the protector would one day turn on his protected.
When this happened, Tibet turned to British India for protection. ‘Although the British had precipitated the trouble, they continued to look the other way, until the Chinese Revolution of 1911 enabled the Tibetans to shake off once and for all their unwanted connection with the Manchus.’5
When the news of the October 1911 Revolution led by Sun Yatsen reached Lhasa, the Manchu garrison in the Tibetan capital mutinied. The Tibetan government expelled the mutinous troops to China through India. The 13th Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa in January 1913. He issued a decree to all Tibet, which came to be considered by Tibetan people as a formal declaration of Tibetan independence.6
Mao’s successful assertion of Chinese control over Tibet in the period between 1949 to 1951 was a follow-up of the failure of Manchu China to assert its control over the country to prevent any powerful and hostile force from controlling the plateau and thus posing a direct threat to the security of China.
The centrality of Tibet in the dispute between India and China is spelled out by Claude Arpi. He writes, ‘The dispute with China only started at the end of the 1950s as a consequence of China’s occupation of Tibet. Relations between India and Tibet today are closely linked to this event and a reading of these essays will demonstrate that the border dispute with China will not be solved till the Tibetan issue is settled in a satisfactory way.’
This thinking is echoed by Brahma Chellaney in his celebrated book, Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan. He writes, ‘It is an illusion that China and India can build enduring peace and cooperation without Beijing reaching out to Tibetans and solving the problem of Tibet. A problem that defines the origins of the China-India divide will stay at the centre-stage of that troubled relationship even if it were set aside indefinitely. China’s own journey towards great power status will be aided if it helped preserve Tibet’s unique culture and religion, involved Tibetans in the development of their land and reached a deal to bring the Dalai Lama back from his exile in Dharamshala, India. Having ceased to be a political buffer between India and China, Tibet can become the political bridge between the two giants. With the Dalai Lama publicly expressing his readiness to accept a status for Tibet short of independence – as a genuinely autonomous region within the People’s Republic – a placated Tibet can help bridge the China-India chasm.’
The centrality of Tibet in relations between India and China was forged by the tripartite conference British India convened in Simla in 1914 to demarcate borders between Tibet and India and between Tibet and China and to reinforce Tibet’s status as equal to China and India. According to Claude Arpi, the one driving force behind the Simla Convention was to ensure a ‘secure buffer zone between British India and China.’
Ivan Chen represented China at the convention. Lonchen Shatra Paljor Dorje represented Tibet. Sir Henry McMahon represented British India. Lonchen Shatra outclassed his Chinese counterpart in terms of preparation and the mountains of original documents he produced to press Tibet’s claims. Ivan Chen made claims but had no documents to back them. The 13th Dalai Lama instructed Lonchen Shatra to accomplish four tasks. Tibet’s internal affairs would be managed by Tibetans. Tibet’s foreign affairs would be conducted in consultation with British India. No Chinese officials would be posted in Lhasa. Tibet should include all the Tibetan speaking people up to Dartsedo in the east and Kokonor in the northeast.
To meet the divergent claims made by the Tibetans and Chinese, Henry McMahon came up with the idea of two Tibets. According to Claude Arpi, Outer Tibet, roughly central and western Tibet, would be recognized as autonomous. China would not be allowed to interfere in the administration of Outer Tibet, nor with the selection of the Dalai Lamas. No Chinese troops nor officials would be stationed in Lhasa. Inner Tibet would include Amdo and Kham where Chinese influence could be exercised. Though Tibet got less than it bargained for, Lonchen Shatra agreed and signed the document that came out of the convention. It was at this convention that the Tibetans legally ceded Arunachal Pradesh to India. In the end, the Simla Convention was signed between independent Tibet and British India. China initialled the convention but did not sign it, thereby forfeiting all rights provided by the convention.
Some scholars say that the 1962 war took place because of the Chinese communist rulers’ conviction that India was trying to restore Tibet’s status as defined by the Simla convention. John W. Garver, in his paper, ‘China’s Decision for War with India in 1962’, says ‘This study will postulate two major, interrelated sets of reasons why China’s leaders decided for war with India in 1962. Ordered in the chronological fashion in which the preoccupied China’s leaders, these two sets of factors were: (i) a perceived need to punish and end perceived Indian efforts to undermine Chinese control of Tibet, Indian efforts which were perceived as having the objective of restoring the pre-1949 status quo ante of Tibet and (ii) a perceived need to punish and end perceived Indian aggression against Chinese territory along the border.’ Garver answers these questions by stating, ‘But this study will also argue that Chinese perceptions of Indian policies toward Tibet were fundamentally erroneous, and that, moreover, these misperceptions contributed substantially to the 1962 war.’
Khrushchev, when he met Mao for the last time before the bitter Sino-Soviet split, also blamed Beijing for China’s Tibet trouble. The Soviet leader blasted Mao in these words: ‘I will tell you what a guest should not say. The events in Tibet are your fault. You ruled in Tibet, you should have had your intelligence there and should have known about the plans and intentions of the Dalai Lama... We believe that the events in Tibet are the fault of the Communist Party of China, not Nehru’s fault.’
The Soviet leader’s blunt comments were made in private. In public the Soviet Union sided with China on the issue of Tibet and leaned towards China on the border war, maintaining a facade of socialist unity and above all preventing the world being exposed to the hidden rivalry and the inevitable split between the two communist giants. Hidden internal rivalry and external display of unity was the work of Mao Zedong. When he launched his war against India, he made sure that the international environment, if not friendly, was not actively hostile to China. Without spelling out his intentions, Mao received an assurance from the United States that it would not ‘unleash Taiwan against the mainland.’ And with the two superpowers locked eyeball-to-eyeball in the looming Cuba missile crisis, the Soviet Union, which needed Chinese support in this crisis, had no choice but to side with China on the border war. With these assurances from the two superpowers of the day that whatever adventure, military or political, China initiated would not be taken advantage of, Mao dragged China towards war with India.
But Mao’s war on India grew out of a need to wage war on his own party. Around this time and even before, according to Mao’s private physician, Dr. Zhisui Li, in his book, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, the chairman ‘was growing increasingly disenchanted with the top leadership of the party.’ This disenchantment grew from Mao’s perception that the top leadership was lukewarm and even in the habit of sharply questioning Mao’s adventures like the Great Leap Forward, which resulted in famine that left at least 40 million Chinese dead, the Hundred Flowers campaign and the rectification of intellectuals that followed. These policy failures made the top leadership less than deferential to the emperor. The emperor knew what to do. He went on a retreat, to the second line. But Mao in retreat was a Mao on the attack. A quick victory in the border war with India was one of Mao’s ways of reasserting his total control over the Chinese Communist Party.
That Mao’s war against India was as much war against China’s newly-acquired neighbour as it was against his own party is made evident during the comments Mao made while the top Chinese communist leadership was discussing the various strategies for prosecuting the war. Claude Arpi quotes Mao as saying: ‘We fought a war with old Chiang (Kai-shek). We fought a war with Japan, and one with America. During none of these did we fear. And in each case, we won. Now the Indians want to fight a war with us... Since Nehru sticks his head out and insists on us fighting him, for us not to fight him would not be proper. Courtesy emphasizes reciprocity... If someone does not attack me, I won’t attack him. If someone attacks me, I will certainly attack him.’
These comments were made behind closed doors. Who was the audience? Certainly, not India which at the time did not have access to such high level conversations. The audience was Mao’s comrades in arms. They were warned about their recalcitrance in carrying out Mao’s vision of a permanent revolution in China.
According to Kissinger in his book, On China, ‘At this moment of potential national emergency, Mao chose to smash the Chinese state and the Communist Party... He propelled China into a decade of ideological frenzy, vicious factional politics, and near civil war known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.’
This is the fascinating story Claude Arpi recounts in his 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga. The only blemish in a work of astonishing achievement is that the publisher did not provide the author a good editor, who could have woven the scattered narrative into greater coherence and flow.
Director, Tibet Policy Institute, Dharamshala
* The reviewer is the author of Falling Through the Roof, a work of fiction.
4. David Snellgrove and Hugh Richardson, A Cultural History of Tibet. UBS Publishers, Delhi, 1968, p. 234.
6. Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa, A Political History of Tibet. Potala Publications, New York, 1984, p. 146.
YAK HORNS: Notes on Contemporary Tibetan Writing, Music, Film and Politics by Bhuchung D. Sonam. TibetWrites, Dharamsala, 2012.
THE narrative of Tibet has never lacked for commentators and those willing and eager to tell its story on its behalf. Beginning in the twelfth century, the land, its culture and its people have been scrutinized and written about by a steady stream of explorers who managed to breach its defences and sneak into the remote Himalayan kingdom. These accounts, and those who braved the land of snows to gather them, became invaluable in the nineteenth century when secret spying and mapping missions were despatched to Tibet, as the Great Game began to unfold in Asia.
Its strategic location, its geopolitical importance, and its exotic appeal as a sort of a last unexplored frontier, ensured that Tibet remained an area of interest for ‘outsiders’ who commented upon it, told and retold its story, and continued to add to the body of writing on it, even as it passed into an era of turmoil and occupation by the People’s Republic of China in the twentieth century, and a section of its population fled their troubled homeland. What is interesting is that a large part of this body of work on Tibet, scholarly, literary and otherwise, was written by non-Tibetan ‘experts’.
As the Buddhism of Tibet, represented most prominently by Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, began to gain currency as a credible spiritual path in the western world circa 1970s and ’80s, a new wave of writings emerged. A host of Tibetan Rinpoches became popular teachers and began travelling the world, setting up centres and acquiring students who were affected not only by their teachings of the dharma, but also by their joie de vivre in the face of adversity. The writings that emerged from the dharma’s interaction with the world, most notably the West, are a testimony to its ability and willingness to converse with new perspectives and worldviews that were quite different from its own.
So, the world fell in love with the Thunderbolt Vehicle to enlightenment (Vajrayana Buddhism) taught by affable, ruddy-cheeked Rinpoches, leading to a ‘dharma publishing’ phenomenon. Glossy-backed books on personal growth, often compilations of teachings given by a Tibetan teacher, began appearing on bestseller lists. Though I have never heard or seen any Rinpoche actively reinforce a Shambhala-esque view of Tibet, either in lectures or in their writings, the fact that there had existed this very practical system of mind-training in Tibet, preserved and practised by human beings, who stood before the world and whose equanimity was palpable, did add to the halo of spiritual accomplishment around Tibet. I wouldn’t say it further exoticized Tibet, but it did lead to a somewhat distorted popular perception of the country – that it was a paradise, disturbed but nevertheless idyllic, filled with enlightened, angelic maroon-robed monks.
This is why Bhuchung D. Sonam’s writings, along with those of a small but growing group of Tibetan writers within and outside Tibet, become so crucial. Along with the older Lhasang Tsering and Jamyang Norbu, writers like Sonam, Tenzin Tsundue, Woeser, Jamyang Kyi and others, are engaged in intently surveying and mapping the spectrum of the contemporary Tibetan experience – that ranges from repression at home in Tibet, to a ‘stateless, homeless’ existence as refugees in India and other parts of the world.
Bhuchung D. Sonam’s Yak Horns is a collection of the author’s writings – essays, literary criticism, film and music reviews, et al – that have appeared in journals, the author’s blog at burningtibet.blogspot.in, and on websites dedicated to Tibetan writing, like www.tibetwrites.org. Through the diverse topics he tackles in the book, Sonam amplifies the voice of an entire generation of Tibetan refugees – those who grew up in exile, never quite at home, assimilating in their adoptive homelands yet never free of the persistent remembrance of the true one they had never seen. In this, Yak Horns presents an invaluable insight into the soul of the young refugee, whose ‘permanent address has been stolen’, as Sonam’s biography in the book so poignantly states.
The collection of articles and essay in Yak Horns also serves as both a mirror of, and a commentary on, the contemporary Tibetan cultural and literary scene. Those who may not regularly read the blogs and magazines where these articles appear will find in this book an opportunity of a snapshot of the same delivered to them, which suffices as a useful introduction to contemporary Tibetan perspectives and realities. Sonam is an intrepid chronicler, and little seems to have escaped his prolific pen in the years represented in the book. What one also gets is a sense of the secular literary and cultural traditions of Tibet, through his cataloguing of the works of individuals such as the inveterate traveller and controversial writer of the early twentieth century, Gendun Choephel, who could be seen as a precursor to the secular Tibetan intellectual movement of which Bhuchung D. Sonam is a contemporary representative and to which he owes allegiance.
Along with past intellectuals, Sonam keeps his lens trained on the contemporary community of writers within and outside Tibet. For those within Tibet, writing and blogging have proven to be a crucial means to resist mounting repression by a paranoid state-machinery wary of Tibetan insistence on a unique and distinct nationhood, identity and culture. By telling the truth about what is happening in Tibet, one that is often at variance with the ‘official’ version, they risk imprisonment, torture, loss of careers and separation from loved ones.
A case in point is Jamyang Kyi, a journalist employed with the state-run Qinghai Television, whose account of her imprisonment in the aftermath of the widespread protests in Tibet in 2008, was smuggled out of the country and published as a book in exile, titled A Sequence of Tortures: A Diary of Interrogations. This happened after the blog where her account first appeared in 2008 was taken down. Another prolific, and fearless, blogger is Tsering Woeser, who lives and works in Beijing and has often spoken about the ‘imperialist cultural invasion’ of Tibet. Despite repeated curbs and threats to her freedom, she and her husband, the author Wang Lixiong, continue to post content on-line that attempts to reflect ground realities in both Tibet and China.
Time and again in Bhuchung D. Sonam’s writing emerges the voice of a people chafing at and struggling with the yoke of a brutal colonization. The only ray of hope seems to be their resilience, and their refusal to give in to their oppressors despite overwhelming odds. This is evident in this quote from Gartse Jigme, a monk from a nomadic family in Amdo, who writes in his book, The Warrior’s Courage, and who Bhuchung D. Sonam quotes:
‘As a Tibetan, I will never give up the struggle for the rights of my people
As a religious person, I will never criticize the leader of my religion
As a writer, I am committed to the power of truth and reality
This is the pledge I make to my fellow Tibetans.’
Indeed, it is a pledge that resonates through this book and the many paths it traverses, the many stories it tells, and the one homeland it pays homage to: Tibet.
Writer; author of Dharamsala Diaries, among other books
THE PARCHMENT OF KASHMIR edited by Nyla Ali Khan. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
The Parchment of Kashmir gathers together a wide range of essays on the subject of Kashmir. It is a compelling and stimulating book for a number of reasons. First, it interrelates a range of disciplines from political science and sociology to history, philosophy, and English. Second, it is produced by academics, all of whom are based in Jammu and Kashmir. Third, because these essays are written by scholars who are intimate with Kashmir, yet have not had an opportunity to be read outside of local circles, the book gives them a readership that they otherwise wouldn’t have; but readers themselves also benefit because the essays provide them with a view that is genuine and local and that otherwise would have been obscured.
The book comprises an introduction and nine chapters, each authored by different scholars. Therefore, it seems appropriate to structure this review according to their separate contributions. As with any such collection of essays, there is, of course, an element of repetition. But, broadly speaking, the essays follow a chronological trajectory, passing from the personal, through the spiritual, to the practical, and then back to the personal. The book is demarcated by sections which group the essays under such subjects as identity and Kashmiriyat, cultural syncretism, sovereignty and democratic governance, conflict, and knowledge production.
Nyla Ali Khan, the editor, who currently teaches at the University of Oklahoma and has written extensively on Kashmir (most recently, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan, Tulika Books, 2009; Palgrave Macmillan, 2010; Gulshan Books, 2011), begins her Introduction with a general look at Kashmir, focusing next upon issues of history, nation, culture, and misfortune. Noteworthy is Khan’s insistence on the heterogeneity of Kashmiri identity and history, her refusal to sentimentalize aspects of cultural loss (such as the loss of Kashmiriyat), and her emphasis on ‘analyses of subjectivity’, which makes possible her own emphasis on women’s roles and identity in the context of cultural and political upheaval. In Khan’s words: ‘Narrative structures in this work are constituted by the variables of race, gender, education, marital status, social class, and nationality, which generate complex conventions and relations of power’ (p. 7). The result of this diversity of personal and ideological backgrounds is a richness that cannot be reduced to a monolithic truth about Kashmir.
The first chapter, ‘Evolution of my identity vis-à-vis Islam and Kashmir’, by Mohammad Ishaq Khan, provides an effective opening by examining personal identity and opinions in the historical environment of Kashmir. Most important, key terms are introduced, including Kashmiriyat, jihad, rishis, Sufis, and azadi. All are examined from the personal viewpoint so that, for example, jihad is thought of as the war against one’s baser self. The essay concludes with an appeal to the higher, unifying logic of spiritual nonviolence.
Continuing the discussion of Kashmiriyat, the second essay, ‘Kashmiriyat: The Voice of the Past Misconstrued’, by Rattan Lal Hangloo, historicizes this ethos of Kashmiriness, viewing it not merely as a concept but as a many-layered, syncretic cultural and secular institution. This essay is, in many ways, the most fundamental contribution in that it examines Kashmiriyat in detail, its development and change over time. Hangloo views Kashmiriyat as unique to Kashmir as a result of geography, ecology, religion, and culture, although it has imbibed influences from neighbours. He concludes with a useful discussion of the partial erosion of Kashmiriyat in terms of diaspora and the geopolitics of the Cold War.
Chapter three builds upon the previous contribution in that it examines both Muslim and Hindu approaches to Kashmiriyat. But M.H. Zaffar’s inspirational essay on the spiritual nature of Kashmir prioritizes ‘an un-indoctrinated folk approach’ (p. 71) as it looks in turn at Buddhism, Saivism, and Sufism. The whole is further enlightened by wonderful selections from the poetry of Lal-Ded and Nund Rishi.
Neerja Mattoo’s essay complements Zaffar’s in bringing the Sufi and Saiva traditions together as a symbiotic entity. Mattoo discusses the poetry of Lal-Ded, Nund Rishi, Shah Ghafoor, and Rupa Bhavani to show how the Muslim and Hindu mystical traditions fuse to form a common worship of the Divine.
The following four chapters take a pragmatic turn, beginning with Noor Ahmad Baba’s ‘Democracy and Governance in Kashmir’, which introduces the more practical elements in an examination of democracy and government. In the conflict between two states over governance, the Kashmir Valley in particular has suffered, leaving a politically bereft community and laying waste to the potential of a true democracy, defined here as ‘the empowerment of people, ensuring rule of law and guaranteeing rights and securities fundamental for living a good life’ (p. 106). Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s re-election in 1975 paved the way for decentralization through local governance with the adoption of the Panchayati Raj Act of 1989; unfortunately, these sound initiatives were squandered as the Jammu and Kashmir region grew increasingly militant and divisive. The key point made by Baba is that there are not simply two states that are involved; this simplistic view completely disregards the will of the people and produces politico-institutional distortions.
Gull Mohammad Wani’s essay, ‘Political Assertion of Kashmiri Identity, follows naturally from Baba’s while taking up the thread begun by Hangloo on the subject of identity politics. Wani clarifies that the issues lie essentially between people, not in people. The idea of community is traced through history, from 1585 onward, and illustrates the gradual elimination of the Kashmiri self. Particular attention is paid to the spirit of nationalism and the drive for self-determination in the face of foreign aggression and oppression, and the secular ideology of Kashmiriyat is understood as the core element of Kashmiris, such as was embodied in the 1950s political mobilization led by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Wani argues that the distinct identity of the Kashmiris is rooted in history and culture, but it also includes variables such as geography, economic viability, and iconography. While such a view has been inhibited by the differing thought processes of India and Pakistan and held back by global geopolitics, the essay remains optimistic about the prospects for regional governance.
Chapter seven investigates in more detail the historical links between Kashmiri and Indian nationalisms. These were not inimical in their aims – agrarian reform being one of the binding factors, secular democracy being another. However, over time and, in particular, with the ousting of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1953, the two came into conflict; Kashmir then became India’s ‘national interest’ and thus the two nationalisms became antagonistic. Of note in the essay is Rekha Chowdhary’s urging readers to consider what is left out of forms of nationalism that are univocal and monolithic: the will of the people themselves in all of their cultural diversity and genuine heterogeneity.
Bashir Ahmed Dabla’s essay, ‘Sociological Dimensions and Implications of the Kashmir Problem’, develops many of these ideas from the sociological viewpoint. Commendable is Dabla’s inclusion of his own personal experiences of the trauma and ravages wrought by the state of militarization and militancy in Kashmir. His premise is that Kashmiri identity is distinctive, affected by a wide range of factors including religion, ideology, politics, economics, sociology, culture, and psychology. With the active participation of academics, the distinctive Kashmiri perspective has been highlighted and reinforced by the growth of militancy. The author recognizes four phases over recent history: one, Kashmiri national fervour and progressive reforms; two, ambiguous democracy; three, mass election rigging; four, the insurrection of Kashmiri youth. Following this is a discussion on a range of broadly sociological problems, including demographic manipulation, economic backwardness, educational backwardness, violence against women, deviance and crime, and the effects of all of these, including discrimination against Kashmiris, cultural deprivation, mental and physical deterioration, corruption and militancy. Dabla concludes that there is a desperate need for social programmes and, in fact, complete social rehabilitation.
The book closes with a moving personal account of the politics of exclusion enforced by the Indian hegemonic state. From an early age, writes Hameeda Naeem, ‘I got passionately involved in thinking about the fate of my homeland, which paradoxically seemed to be my own, and yet very alien’ (p. 214). An education in postcolonial theory exposed Naeem to the politics of knowledge construction and the ideological functioning of the state, the manner in which the state coerced or manufactured consent to its regulation of every aspect of human life. Gross brutalities carried out by the Indian Army against people for demanding basic civic rights, several of whom included the author’s own family, galvanized Naeem into political activism. Not only the repressive forces of the government but the public media – ‘analyses of television debates; the invited panelists; write-ups in the national English and vernacular papers, magazines, and reports from the government agencies; and …reporting on the conflict by the national media’ (p. 220) – too bear responsibility for distorting facts and silencing minority voices. As a result, the history of Kashmir, both past and present, stands severely diminished, and children are brought up ‘almost rootless’ (p. 221).
In all, this collection of essays is a compelling tribute to the need for genuine democracy for Kashmir, one that will account for all of its voices, religions, languages, histories, and traditions. One must believe that the sharing of such views with other scholars, particularly in the Indian subcontinent, will produce some movement, if barely perceptible, towards a fuller understanding and a possible settlement of the Kashmir issue. Furthermore, the book provides an instructive framework for both theoreticians and practitioners who work on global minority issues which bears some resemblance to that of Kashmir. An obvious example which springs to mind and is located in at least four states is that of the Kurds. In Iraq, there is a clear Kurdish history, identity, and perspective and at the present time efforts are being made to delimit a boundary to the Kurdish area which takes into account the variables discussed in this book. The Parchment of Kashmir is a step in the direction toward a broader, yet deeper, knowledge of Kashmir as told by Kashmiris. More than this: to read its parchment is an invitation to extend our social and ethical thinking.
Wright State University, Dayton
THE CRISES OF CAPITALISM: A Different Study of Political Economy by Saral Sarkar. Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, 2012.
TOWARDS the last years of the 20th century, the United States seemed embarked on an endless economic boom. The more cautious forecasts of the dismal science were being visibly proved wrong, evidently pointing to the need to rewrite the economic laws themselves. Old correlations between high rates of growth and employment and the prospect of inflation were seen to be vanishing. The world was being primed for the arrival of a ‘new economy’ of multiple opportunities and infinite possibilities.
Alongside the prolonged phase of high growth and near full-employment with historically low levels of inflation, there were other anomalies that stared the orthodoxy in economics in the face, but were quietly brushed aside. These seemingly did not serve the hegemonic political narrative, that high and enduring levels of prosperity would be assured for all in a world economy under secure U.S. overlordship. But the underlying signs of a world economy seriously out of joint would just not go away. The U.S. current account deficit for one, was burgeoning and reaching levels that in any other economy, would have invited the stern tutelage of the global watchdogs of financial orthodoxy, notably the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But aside from cursory references to the desirability of a correction that would return the U.S. to a surplus position, this was the great unmentionable in global economic debates. Also escaping any kind of serious engagement was the anomaly of an exchange rate for the U.S. dollar that simply did not correct itself, despite the persistent deficit on the external payments account. A growing deficit on current account coexisted in seeming comfort, with a strengthening U.S. dollar.
There were through all these years of ‘voodoo economics’, few questions raised about how much further the U.S. economy could continue piling up the debt. Within the domestic political arena, sections of the ruling elite stoked a popular revolt against taxation and encouraged growing resentment towards government intervention, even in vital infrastructure and social welfare areas. In 2001 and then again in 2003, when the U.S. was girding for war in putative defence of the civilized world, its president was also summoning citizens to liberation from taxes. It was not much talked about in expert circles then, but a little before the invasion of Iraq took place in March 2003, the U.S. Treasury Department formally notified the U.S. Congress that the government had reached the limits of borrowing allowed under the law and was in danger of default on debt. The U.S. government, hot and feverish for war, needed to borrow to merely service its national debt, an irony that was lost as Congress too joined in the hysteria. This drama of raising borrowing limits had been enacted the previous year too and at various times over the preceding decade, with little dissent from either of the two parties that compete for power in the U.S.
In earlier situations when the country had gone to war, whether World War II or Vietnam, the political leadership had also called for sacrifices in material comforts and compliance with higher taxes. In 2003, as the country prepared for what was quite plainly, an illegitimate invasion in Iraq, it was being conditioned to believe that handing out tax cuts to the rich was as much a patriotic duty as fighting the war for civilization. It was not long before the sheer lunacy of the enterprise was shown up. ‘The disappearing dollar’ was the title of an editorial in The Economist in December 2004, which pointed out that the ‘dominant role’ of the U.S. currency in global flows of commerce and finance, could ‘no longer be taken for granted’: ‘If America keeps on spending and borrowing at its present pace, the dollar will eventually lose its mighty status in international finance. And that would hurt: the privilege of being able to print the world’s reserve currency, a privilege which is now at risk, allows America to borrow cheaply, and thus to spend much more than it earns, on far better terms than are available to others. Imagine you could write cheques that were accepted as payment but never cashed. That is what it amounts to.’
Then came September 2008 and the meltdown of a system that had been built on illusions of endless prosperity. The proximate cause was identified as the vast extension of credit into the housing market, particularly the so-called ‘sub-prime’ category where borrowers would not normally merit very favourable terms. But ‘sub-prime’ lending was only the last building block of a pyramid scheme, which had led to a cascading of debt through the economy, enveloping first the U.S. government, and then the corporate and business sectors, before finally washing over the households. There was no option then, but for the U.S. federal government to take on debt from most other sectors on to its books. ‘Bail-outs’ for one sector after another became the order of the day leading to an even more rapid growth of the public debt. Unsurprisingly, the social pathologies of a class divided society, hidden as long as the growth story remained viable, surfaced in a particularly virulent fashion after the meltdown. The U.S. today presents a picture of political gridlock, with a Congress that suffered no qualms about increasing the debt ceiling so long as the object was war, refusing similar sanction to support the entitlements of the poor and the middle class.
The U.S. meltdown and consequent slowing of growth triggered a contagion of debt crises in the European continent. Caught up in the heady promise of those years of growth, several of the countries that had joined the European integration project, had been successfully gaming the system of fiscal and monetary discipline, using creative public accounting procedures in a tacit alliance with inventive bank managements. Like the U.S., particular countries in the Euro zone slipped into recession under the weight of the mountain of debt accumulated through years of reckless fiscal management. But unlike the U.S., these countries did not own the world’s reserve currency, compelling them to adopt harsh austerity policies that deepened the recession. The argument is that things necessarily would get worse before they start improving, but there are worries that the costs of the recovery could rupture the social compact that makes democratic governance a possibility.
Since 2008, there has been a refreshing spurt of new scholarship on the roots of capitalist crises, mostly calling up doctrines of Marxist political economy, which in the conceit of the ‘new economy’ was regarded as banished for all time. Saral Sarkar’s work belongs to this wide corpus and was originally written in German, before an English translation emerged in 2012. Its value is enhanced by the wide historic canvas it maps, plotting trajectories of economic thinking over the years, and seeking to situate theoretical doctrines within the objective circumstances in which they originated.
Foremost among the doctrines that Sarkar, a longtime activist in the German Greens Party deals with, is Marxism. He goes into a review of the various pathways towards capitalist crisis that have been plotted in the texts of first and second generation Marxist doctrine, and identifies a certain confusion there, between a theoretical approach which sees the problem originating within the sphere of production and another, which identifies distribution as the principal constraint. Crisis originates in one perception, from the relentless fall in the rate of profit, destined at some point to reach the point where incentives diminish and the impulse towards growth weakens and dies. Another identifies the disparity in purchasing power between those who own capital and those who do not, which would lead inexorably to an exhaustion of the markets that could sustain capital accumulation.
Sarkar looks at the innovations in Marxist doctrine made by theorists of the second generation, such as V.I. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. He particularly identifies as a challenging proposition, the latter’s inference that capitalism is always in need of a ‘third market’, other than the investment and consumption needs of its home territory, for completing the circuit of accumulation. The inexorable dynamic of capitalist reproduction, in Luxemburg’s estimation, would impel it into furious territorial expansion and conquest. In terms of logic and internal mathematical coherence, this proposition from one of the greatest figures in second generation Marxist praxis, has been found wanting. Paul Sweezy, a third generation figure, identified Luxemburg’s omission of the possibilities afforded by continuing investment in the home territory – as opposed to consumption – as the source of her error. Others pointed out that the capital surplus gleaned out of the exploitation of labour in any one time period, could be lodged in the financial sector, where its ‘value’ would be retained, perhaps even multiplied, for deployment at a later time.
In charting this theoretical course in Marxism, Sarkar offers insights into the material circumstances that provoked each successive rethink. The dialectic of material circumstances and doctrinal change, he implicitly suggests, proved adverse to developing a political praxis that would empower the working class. Rather, it seemed to evolve seamlessly into a doctrine under which ‘saviours of capitalism’ exploited the best insights of revolutionary theory to argue the case for reforming the system, or salvaging it from its worst excesses.
John Maynard Keynes and Joseph Schumpeter are among the ‘saviours’ that Sarkar takes particular interest in. And among the two, Keynes has left by far the deeper imprint on economics as actually practised. Sarkar offers a detailed summation of the doctrinal devices – and the attendant political pressures – that led to Keynes’ insights being transformed from a potentially corrosive critique of the capitalist economy, into a disputed policy prescription which was held responsible for the many ills of the system, despite its undoubted role in rescuing capitalism from its worst ever crisis in the 1930s.
Beyond practical details, Keynesian doctrine had a seriously problematic ideological aspect, in sanctioning progressive taxation and the funding of public assets out of tax revenues. This affront to the foundational belief of capitalism, that rewards are proportionate to effort and merit, engendered a challenge from a spawn of rightwing ideology and statistical trickery called monetarism. It was a school of economic thinking that held the field for long as a dissenting view on the right. But from the moment it came to be the basis of policy, it was seen to be a recipe for social chaos and political instability. Monetarism then passed over, imperceptibly, into another family of doctrine called neo-liberalism.
The limits of the Keynesian formulae were evident in the conjunction of inflation and economic stagnation (or stagflation) of the 1970s. Informed observers, who looked beyond the gobbledygook, found the underlying causes of crisis in the rapid decline of U.S. industry, compounded severely by sharpening competition from a resurgence of manufacturing strength in West Germany and Japan. And the usual device of maintaining profitability by raising prices was running into quite another roadblock in the well-organized labour force which was able to bid up its ages to match the rise in prices. In short, the advanced economies, even as they entered a phase of stagnation, were also threatened by the competition between profit and wages, that tended to push prices up in an inflationary spiral.
The way out of that spiral was to throttle the workers’ wage bargaining power. And the instrumentality was economic policy: tightening money supply to clamp down on inflation and scaling back a large part of the Keynesian variety of expenditure. If these exertions of ‘soft power’ did not work, the hard coercive power of the police could be brought to bear on labour unions to destroy them as viable economic agents. And at the same time, the ostensibly productive elements within society were to be given a special incentive to innovate and invest, by relieving them substantially of the burden of taxes.
‘Supply-side economics’ offered cuts in tax rates on the assurance that these would lead to a vast increase in revenues, because of the productive potential they would unleash. In practice, this rather placid expectation proved completely misplaced. But ‘supply-side economics’ continued to have powerful ideological backers. And then, the deterioration in the fiscal balance already underway, was compounded by a new phase of political and military competition between the west and the socialist bloc as it then existed. Vast increases in military outlays created a yawning gap between taxes and expenditures which, in the tight money regime introduced to deal with inflation, only meant a huge spiralling of public debt for economies that remained professedly averse to that outcome. But then addiction to debt became through the world’s ability to absorb endless hoards of U.S. dollar denominated instruments, a formula for prosperity. It was a path full of ups and downs. The ‘emerging economies’ in the developing world of the 1980s – Mexico, Brazil and Argentina – were quickly bogged down in a quagmire of their own debt and had their mantle transferred to other claimants, such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, which too flamed out in the mid-1990s. And then came an entirely new grouping of ‘emerging economies’, including India, to carry the burden of the world’s expectations.
The meltdown of 2008 showed that without addressing fundamental asymmetries of power in the world economy, this constant shifting of the burden of expectations from one credulous developing economy to another, serves little purpose. And in examining the possible routes out of the current crisis, Sarkar insists that Keynesian prescriptions still retain their validity, despite the massive debt that hangs over the world’s leading economies. Illustratively, he points to the U.S. which has opted for the path of fiscal stimulus financed through debt and done rather better since 2008 since Europe, which has taken the path of austerity.
This is attractive as short-term remedy since the costs of austerity are known to fall disproportionately on those of lesser means. But in terms of long-term viability, it creates its own political stresses as seen today in the angry White elite rebellion against taxes under the banner of the ‘Tea Party’ in the U.S. Also crucially, the continuing recourse to debt is only available to the U.S. because of the special privilege it enjoys from the status of the dollar as global reserve currency: a status that rests both on the military-political hegemony of the U.S. and the convenient reality that most world transactions in commodities – including that universal intermediate, petroleum – is denominated in the U.S. dollar.
Recognition of this reality will also occasion a broader engagement with the military and political strategies that are currently in play – and likely to be enforced with greater vigour in a context of growing economic crisis – to maintain the existing power balance of the capitalist world economy. It would also impart some clarity on the political strategies that popular movements for a more just world order could take.
Sarkar’s key insights in this book lie in drawing attention to how rapidly the environmental commons are being depleted in the rush of capitalist accumulation. Early capitalist accumulation expanded into a vacuum so to speak: a non-capitalist world that seemed unlimited in its expanse and an environmental sink of infinite capacity. As the territorial limits of capitalist expansion were reached with the final conquest of the U.S. frontier in the early years of the 20th century, predatory wars fought on an industrial scale broke out among the main powers. The restoration of peace coincided with a shift of the centre of gravity of the capitalist world economy from Europe to the vigorous offspring it had engendered on the other bank of the Atlantic. It also led to an intensification of the techniques of exploiting nature, contributing to an accelerated depletion of the environmental commons. The crises in the financial domain, not to mention in fiscal management, may be patched through with short-term expedients. But the rising level of political contention makes that a process that is likely soon to reach the end of its tether. And then the looming environmental crisis would call out for resolution, making a vision of post-industrial society and a new pact of harmony between society and nature, an imperative of a new world order.
Freelance journalist, Delhi