So al-Baghdadi is dead. One hopes, well and truly. But given the precise circumstances revealed by United States President Donald Trump, one wonders how the whereabouts of the secretive and elusive mass-murderer came to be known and how American intel penetrated his guard. His location must have been derived from some link or association they had with him, however indirectly. It is in this context that the numerous, if unconfirmed, reports (reportedly from CIA sources) of Israeli officers’ involvement in the first campaigns by ISIS deserve attention.
Presumably Israel, America’s proxy in many such instances, did not particularly want pro-Iran Shia forces to gain the upper hand after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Israel is quite accustomed to such sinister methods, as during its backing of Hamas—at present its mortal foe—against Yasser Arafat’s Al Fatah in Palestine. Did Israel develop some moles within ISIS then and pass on vital information to CIA?
Whatever may have been, the imperialist powers’ creation and nurture of monsters for a specific purpose, and their ruthless elimination when that purpose is served, is standard tactics. Osama Bin Laden, who was primed and then liquidated by them, is the most obvious example. But sometimes monsters that get out of hand turn out to be irrepressible and may even become a nemesis for such irresponsible power-play. The Taliban, who have forced America to the negotiating table and were its protegee a quarter of a century back, springs to mind. There are instances galore. The human costs have been terrible.
What about the predecessors, the colonial powers? Were they more genteel or upright in their approach to power? Hardly. In fact, the colonial powers were in a sense the godfathers of present-day imperialism. They created and let loose such monsters whenever they chose to divert, thwart and deflect the course of various freedom movements in colonised countries. The forms of communal virus in India, which continue to stir up trouble up to our times and which are so ingrained in our everyday discourse as to be invisible in their true character, point to such cynical social engineering and political manipulation.
It makes sense to assume that while abdicating political control they might have left behind devices to remote control these countries, in order to protect their interests. In his posthumously-published India Wins Freedom, Maulana Azad repeatedly alludes to such a design behind Partition and creation of a Muslim state out of undivided India. But did they take other practical and well-calculated measures that would safeguard their material interests for an indefinite period?
It had disturbed many thinking Indians at the time of Independence that the Indian state was practically an extension of and improvement upon the core ideas in the Government of India Act of 1935. A newly-liberated country should have been able to start afresh in light of the experiences of other countries and blaze a new trail after liberation from the foreign yoke. It is true that the makers of our Constitution did their best given the pressures of circumstances they found themselves in. But it was not the best they were capable of, and the pressures were indeed formidable.
The British had left the exchequer depleted, particularly after the terrible drain of World War II. They sold the railways to the new Indian government at a hefty price after it had been used to the limit to fill British coffers. British colonial property was not nationalised. It was to be exploited for decades to come. Colonial plunder had been calculated to mind-boggling figures by Left economists, and the people of India continue to suffer grimly from the effects of this ruthless plunder which went on for two centuries. The colonial levers of power continue to operate under a new guise.
But is there something more? One ventures to think there is: the shadowy lineaments of a despotic state that could be put to use by domestic political forces in alliance with former colonial masters. If things go wrong, and “public order” serving their interests is rocked, these can be instantly and ruthlessly invoked to crush opposing forces or tendencies.
First consider the millions upon millions of poor peasants who had been sucked to bare-bones by several kinds of extortionate land taxes. Most had been done out of their lands by the joint operation of the government and the moneylender. They had paid for freedom at great risk and often with the supreme sacrifice of their lives. Naturally, they expected some restoration of the rights they had lost generations ago.
What happened? After hemming and hawing for a long time, the Centre pushed the initiative to the states, which were firmly in the grip of the landed class. There was also the fanfare about Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement. Ultimately, with legislation and Bhoodan, each landless peasant was awarded a measly 0.05 acre of land. The despotic South Korean and Taiwanese governments showed no tenderness to the landed gentry and made land reform a success.
Not content with this, the United Progressive Alliance governments, followed by the National Democratic Alliance, drew up land acquisition bills to rob destitute peasants, tribals and Adivasis, the last two in particular as they were in the dark about legal loopholes and their own rights. In any case, since they had no land documents, their traditional ownership had little or no value. Did our Constitution firm up their rights? Not quite, except the Sixth Schedule in Assam, which in the long run was of not much avail.
To top it all, the land acquisition bills are at present being enforced as ordinance. Adivasi homes have been broken up and men are reduced to unskilled contractual labourer with an uncertain future and women to prostitution in urban hell-holes. The Congress party was a little shamefaced about it. Saffron governments are brazen.
And the constitutional ground for that? The borrowed colonial doctrine of Eminent Domain, which says that anyone’s land may be acquired by the state that holds sovereign power within its territory for reasons of “public necessity” and “public welfare”. Who or what is this “public”? Evidently, it does not include hapless tribals and Adivasis, but most certainly includes the big corporates. The latter’s necessity is public necessity, their welfare public welfare.
Enormous public property, built up on land acquired from such derelict poor, and with resources gathered from from excise taxes after grinding the poor, and from government funds that could have been used directly to alleviate their misery, is now being handed over to corporates at a fraction of its value. So one understands how Eminent Domain works.
Actually, this doctrine, first propounded by Hugo Grotius, was used widely and indiscriminately to dispossess the common farmer of his small sliver of land and his access to the traditional commons to enlarge the property of the landed gentry in England who, during the 17th and 18th centuries, were taking to capitalist farming. These ruthless excesses are well-documented. Two centuries later, the Indian ruling classes follow suit. An eminently useful device which was borrowed from former colonial masters.
The second instance is even more brazen and brutal. It is the horrible and vicious section 124 of the Indian Penal Code [dealing with sedition], which lumps together criticism of government with defamation and treason. This mocks at Fundamental Rights and has already been abused a lot.
In India, the avowed enemies of Macaulay are very much in love with this section, which is a brainchild of Macaulay himself. The Congress party was not too far behind in invoking it for “reasons of state”. Jawaharlal Nehru did call it “most obnoxious” at the Constituent Assembly, as most freedom-fighters had suffered from it and Gandhiji had famously pleaded guilty under it. But it remains a mystery why Nehru forgot to do anything about it for the next fifteen years.
One might have thought this was an accident but for a recent revelation. On 29 October, one heard on Al Jazeera news of civil rights workers, journalists and democratic leaders attacking exactly the same legal provision in a wide swathe of sub-Saharan countries. In country after country—Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Swaziland—one heard voices of anguished protest against this enormity. Like India they, too, had once been colonies of Western powers. This law had been bequeathed by the latter to the native successors: this Damocles’ sword on civil rights and freedom of speech along with the badge of Western enlightenment—the rule of law.
It is too much of a coincidence to be anything but calculated and intentional. There too, “national security” has been pleaded for enforcing it. Security for whom? For rulers or the nation at large? Our leaders must be held to account for this blot on democracy.
Hiren Gohain writes on sociopolitical issues and is a literary critic.