Selling Utopia

The idea of a federation comprising India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with a common currency such as the Euro, mooted by Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, has no taker, particularly after the recent attack on Pathankot’s Airbase by a Pakistan-based jihadist group. They sell utopia to win elections and after settling in parliament for at least five years they sell utopia for diverting public attention. Peace marchers are there—in all the three units of the sub-continent—but their voice ‘Peace will Win’ doesn’t reach the majority of masses who are actually swayed by the provocateurs. Every speech made by the ruling elites and their military aides in Islamabad and New Delhi smells of provocation. Every speech fanatics make here and there causes people to hate one another. Retrogressive rule is in reality an invitation to further terror and social disintegration. On an earlier occasion too Paswan visualised a South Asian Federation as a remedy to solve the terror crisis that affects the peace process initiated by people’s initiatives.

Terrorism in South Asia as in elsewhere is not without ideological orientation. Nor does it grow in a political vacuum only. Pakistan is fighting terrorism at home but it also utilises terrorism as a proxy war against India to destabilise Indian economy and discourage peace-marchers all the time to start new beginnings.

But a federation, rather a loose federation, is already there under the umbrella of South Asian Area Regional Cooperation (SAARC). And by any means, even by South Asian standards, it is a total failure, they have not been able to achieve minimum objectives over the years, not to speak of common currency, despite costly summits every now and then and media focused deliberations couched in beautiful language of peace and harmony. When they cannot think of easing travel restrictions by abolishing passport and visa barrier, it is simply ludicrous to talk of common currency. After all South Asian drama differs sharply from European theatre, both in content and form and also in terms of industrial and educational advancement that plays a crucial role in harmonising and stabilising societies. Their common strategy is aimed at curbing American dominance and protecting their declining global market share. It’s not really the case in the South Asian scenario. Here India is perpetually viewed as a bully that could jeopardise sovereign functionting of any such federation as proposed by Paswan, because of India’s huge size and unequal industrial development in three wings of South Asia.

Frankly speaking, there is not much difference between Paswan’s ‘Federation idea’ and Ram Madhab’s ‘Akhand Bharat’ (undivided India) concept. In truth Paswan’s comments came after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) General Secretary Ram Madhab had said that ‘‘the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) still believes that one day these parts, which have for historical reasons separated only 60 years ago, will again, through popular goodwill, come together and Akhand Bharat will be created’’. The bitter reality is that ‘historical reasons’ that were instrumental in dividing united India into India and Pakistan and then fragmenting Pakistan into Pakistan and Bangladesh, are still there. In many ways those ‘historical reasons’ have been further complicated because of too many contradictions, operative at regional and international levels.

Ram Madhab’s ‘Akhand Bharat’ doesn’t mean a federal body, it will be more unitary than Indians have at the moment, despite a ‘‘progressive’’ Constitution. Indian Republic has been fighting home-grown terror outfits right from its inception, betraying the very spirit of Constitution. Most insurgencies demand further separation, not federation. Initial prospects of conceiving an ideal atmosphere in a situation of less restricted borders within SAARC framework, have, for all practical purposes, been pushed to the background. They are now erecting permanent barbed wire fences along borders while strengthening bunkers and military outposts all the time. There is hardly any disagreement between civilian rulers and military authorities of Pakistan about how to finish their unfinished agenda—Kashmir. Unless there is a change in attitudes of India and Pakistan on Kashmir, the idea of federation, is more like a utopia, not to be realised even in the distant future.

Meanwhile, Islamabad’s latest move to raise the status of Gilgit-Baltistarn to address China’s concerns over US $46 billion economic corridor—China-Pakistan Economic Corridor linking western China to southern Pakistan’s Gwadar Port—through the strategic region is a new irritant in India-Pakistan relations. Pakistan cannot raise Gilgit’s status in their Constitution without making it a province of Pakistan. Traditionally, Pakistan maintains a unique stance that Kashmir is a disputed area and PoK divided into ‘Azad Kashmir’ and ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’, have their own assemblies, and technically, are not part of Pakistan union. This is anything but hypocrisy! In other words India-Pakistan friction will rise further, making Paswan’s ‘Federation Idea’, one more item on peace marchers’ agenda to be sold for the sake of populism.

South Asian Drama is basically a tragedy. Unless popular upsurges in all the three units of this most populous region succeed in radicalising social movements, mountain of mistrust standing as a stumbling block in the path of peaceful co-existence, will continue to rule the roost, not peace-wish.

An artificial union or federation cannot last long. The disintegration of Soviet Union is a case in point. After the collapse, they are now clubbed together in a federation called Commonwealth of Independent States. It’s a peculiar uncommon Commonwealth, having no possibility of becoming a real federation of former Soviet Republics. The assembly is dominated by Russia, perhaps for historical reasons, and the Commonwealth is at worst a new device to preserve Russian influence as it was during the Soviet days.

Vol. 48, No. 28, Jan 17 - 23, 2016