Champagne, Seminar, and ISI

First published in The Pioneer, August06, 2011

The genteel face of Track 2 diplomacy was given a crude scar by the FBI’s inquiry into the Ghulam Nabi Fai operation and this time the usual counter (“its Hindu nationalist cant”) is not available for the defense of the liberal elite.

About ten years ago, when at a conference in Madison, Wisconsin, I presented a content analysis of The New YorkTimes and The Washington Post’s coverage of Indian matters over a three-year period (1998-2000), I was heckled by some who sought to shut me up. This was when the NDA

held the reins in Delhi. In my paper I had concluded that the Post, despite some partisan editorialising, was more circumspect about Indian matters but the NYT was consistently tendentious and didactic.

The people who tried to shut me up included an academic/activist from California, along with a couple of graduate students representing the “left-secular-progressive” front. For them, anything that was even remotely supportive of the NDA regime was anathema. Despite the fact that I had spent a year collecting all of the reports on India appearing in those two newspapers, and that my analysis was substantiated with quotes, arguments, contexts, and examples, and despite the fact that another senior India/South Asia expert present there concurred about the nature of NYT’ editorializing, the shrill invective aimed at me by these left ideologues was a spectacle to behold.

I mention this because the activist/academic who teaches at a university that enrolls just about a thousand students (of whom only 5% are undergraduates) has acquired the reputation over the past 15 years as a left wing crusader of sorts. Her frequent trips to India have led to the publication of books with such provocative titles as, “Violent Gods: Hindu nationalism in India’s present; Narratives from Orissa.” She claims to be the co-convener of the “International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights” and “Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir”, and in the latter capacity, we believe, was funded by Ghulam Nabi Fai to berate and shame India, and present partial truths at the ISI-sponsored Washington DC “conferences”.

We have known about the Indian and Indian-American invitees at these “conferences,” and the American politicians who had made their mark as India-baiters. We have watched and seen them put their stamp of approval on the “findings, conclusions, and resolutions” arrived at in these conferences, and sent out immediately to the media worldwide. Fai then took these resolutions to his meetings in Geneva, London, Brussels and wherever else the ISI sent him to spread the anti-India message. However, it did come as a surprise that the FBI was looking into the activities of Fai and his handlers when all the while we thought that US administrations would not really, ever, acknowledge their co-dependent Pakistani partner’s designs on India and the dastardly acts in Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere in India by Pakistan funded and abetted operators.

Sure, everyone in a democratic country has the right to free exercise of speech, and therefore should be able to climb up on their soap boxes and speak their partisan bits, if they pleased. It is also important to acknowledge that bringing pressure on governments and administrations that oppress their own is laudable. It is even more important to acknowledge that the Kashmir issue has roiled India for the past six decades and that acts of omission and commission on the part of Indian politicians and Indian administrations have made the life of many in Kashmir miserable. But what is equally important is that we also have the courage of our convictions to identify and shame those who play “dirty politics” as partisan activists, “useful idiots”, or fifth columnists. The partisan activists and “mainstream” journalists who supped at Fai’s high table would have known that Fai was connected to the jihadists operating in J&K since that connection was made explicit in the findings of Indian think tanks and Indian reporters any number of times over the past decade.

Let us reverse the scenario here and see what would be the level of hullaballoo if right-wing activists and journalists with connections to the BJP or the RSS were found to have connections to some worldwide extremist organisation. It is important to argue here that there can be no appropriate analogy for right-wing activism and left-wing activism in the Indian context. There is simply no Indian neighbour who seeks to strengthen India by secretly funding Hindu nationalists as there are Indian neighbors who seek to destabilise India using Communists, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and every other “aggrieved” group. Also, there is no comparison between left-wing activists and partisan media personalities supping with ISI-sponsored frontmen for the dismemberment of India, and Hindu nationalists getting money from family and friends in the US to support the BJP or the RSS.

However, we do see already, in the context of the massacre of nearly 80 people by a right-wing extremist in Norway, the connections sought to be ade between the BJP/RSS activists and Anders Behring Breivik, the mad gunman claiming to be a Christian Islamophobe. An Indian newspaper reporter’s ramblings about how all extremism has to be countered and challenged has now become an Orwellian headline in the Christian Science Monitor, which provocatively connects Breivik to “Hindu nationalists”. The headline reads, “Norway massacre: Breivik manifesto attempts to woo India’s Hindu nationalists”.

While a few commentators have already written about the Fai-ISI nexus, what is not analysed is that the ideologues of the left and commentators/activists who call themselves “secular” or “progressive” have routinely used language to verbally bludgeon those who oppose them. Thus, soon after Fai was arrested by the FBI, a Washington DC-based correspondent of an Indian newspaper wrote that “Indian liberals and so-called bleeding hearts” had come under scrutiny because they had accepted Fai’s invitations to rail against India. This correspondent claims these “liberals and so-called bleeding hearts” had been identified by “Indian hypernationalists and right-wingers” as having worked with Fai. The opposite of a right-winger has to be either a left-winger or a Marxist, and the opposite of a “hyper-nationalist” has to be what — a “hyperinternationalist” or a “traitor”. The lack of care as well as the willfulness of media commentators and activists/academics in these matters make it difficult to converse meaningfully on such complex issues because they have claimed for themselves the position of the “good” and the “reasonable”.

The only way out of this dangerous dialectic rests with the orthodoxy. They can begin to moderate their views and mind their language and thus release the “deviant” from the corner that they have been pushed into. This would allow both to arrive at the middleground. However, in these days of

pitched political battles with so much at stake, we doubt that those who have claimed the high ground and those who have sharpened their verbal arrows for decades will let go. They will use their position to rationalise the activities of the journalists, NGO leaders and academics who joined hands with ISI henchmen to destabilise India. The Angana Chatterjees, the Dileep Padgaonkars, and other fellow travelers would therefore continue to work with right-wing Christians like Congressman Burton and Pakistan-funded Islamists like Fai to purportedly take on “rightwing Hindus” and the Indian administration. The irony!

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