The state and dis­sent

The Pak Banker - - EDITORIAL - Has­san Javid

THE Modi's govern­ment's in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian tenor should not come as a sur­prise to any­one. As demon­strated by the In­dian state's heavy-handed re­sponse to stu­dent protests at JNU, the BJP and its lead­ers clearly have lit­tle re­spect for free­dom of ex­pres­sion, peace­ful demon­stra­tions, and demo­cratic de­bate. It was in­evitable that a right-wing na­tion­al­ist party like the BJP would ul­ti­mately do its best to ride roughshod over civil lib­er­ties in In­dia, us­ing the id­iom of na­tional se­cu­rity and pride to sti­fle dis­sent and ap­peal to the more chau­vin­is­tic el­e­ments of its elec­torate. Like other no­tion­ally ' demo­cratic' lead­ers, whose ranks in­clude fig­ures like Turkey's Er­do­gan and Rus­sia's Putin, Modi has re­peat­edly sought to le­git­imize his po­si­tion by ce­ment­ing con­trol over the state ap­pa­ra­tus, weak­en­ing sys­tems of ac­count­abil­ity and op­po­si­tion, and con­stantly feed­ing the pop­u­lace a diet of top-down cap­i­tal­ist ' de­vel­op­ment' mixed with pop­ulist ap­peals to na­tion­al­ism and com­mu­nal sen­ti­ment that con­tin­u­ously em­pha­size how 'strong' lead­er­ship is ex­em­pli­fied by a will­ing­ness to dis­re­gard ba­sic hu­man rights and free­doms. As al­ways, it is the marginal­ized, de­prived, and dis­pos­sessed who suf­fer the fall­out from this process; PhD stu­dent Ro­hith Vem­ula's sui­cide last month was em­blem­atic of the con­tin­ued dis­crim­i­na­tion faced by dal­its in In­dia, as well as other com­mu­ni­ties in­clud­ing Mus­lims, Chris­tians, and Adi­va­sis. The eas­i­est scape­goats and, in­deed, tar­gets are those that are least able to fight back.

When Kanhaiya Ku­mar was ar­rested for speak­ing his mind at JNU two weeks ago, he and the stu­dents and ac­tivists who rose up to sup­port him were ac­cused of sedi­tion, trea­son, and 'anti-na­tional' ac­tiv­i­ties. This should be fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory for ob­servers in Pak­istan, where th­ese la­bels have long been de­ployed to feather and tar any and all who chal­lenge the ide­o­log­i­cal agenda of the state. In­deed, the readi­ness with which gov­ern­ments in In­dia and Pak­istan have used this line of at­tack against their op­po­nents (the Modi govern­ment is hardly the first In­dian one to do so) could ar­guably be at­trib­uted to a shared legacy of colo­nial gov­er­nance through in­sti­tu­tions de­signed to be ex­clu­sion­ary and au­thor­i­tar­ian. Where In­dia and Pak­istan di­verge is in the pop­u­lar re­sponse to such mea­sures; while In­dia at least seems to have a thriv­ing pub­lic de­bate and rel­a­tively wellor­ga­nized and politi­cized groups will­ing to con­test the power of the state, sys­tem­atic cam­paigns to neuter pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics in Pak­istan, par­tic­u­larly of the type as­so­ci­ated with stu­dents and the work­ing classes, has al­lowed for the hege­monic pro­ject of the state to un­fold largely unim­peded.

As has been noted be­fore in this col­umn, pol­i­tics in Pak­istan, for all its ap­par­ent chaos and crises, is ac­tu­ally quite ba­nal. While the ques­tion of where power truly lies, at least in terms of civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions, is an in­ter­est­ing and im­por­tant one not least of all be­cause of its bear­ing on the ques­tion of re­la­tions with In­dia and na­tional iden­tity, the sim­ple fact is that main­stream politi­cians and par­ties in Pak­istan re­main char­ac­ter­ized by a tremen­dous de­gree of ide­o­log­i­cal sim­i­lar­ity and a com­mon moor­ing in the mi­lieu of the coun­try's tra­di­tional so­cioe­co­nomic elite. As such, the con­stant con­fronta­tion be­tween lead­ers and par­ties amounts to lit­tle more than su­per­fi­cial dross cov­er­ing lit­tle of sub­stance, with the ac­tors in­volved sim­ply ar­gu­ing over how to di­vide the spoils of power. When it comes to some of the ques­tions that mat­ter - the ex­ploita­tion and in­equal­ity inherent to cap­i­tal­ism, the role of re­li­gion in the pub­lic sphere and as a pil­lar of the 'ide­ol­ogy of Pak­istan', and the griev­ances of Pak­istan's eth­nic mi­nori­ties - lit­tle is ac­tu­ally said to chal­lenge the ide­o­log­i­cal con­sen­sus over which the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment and civil­ian political elite pre­side.

How­ever, it is here that we en­counter a para­dox: if the state in Pak­istan pos­sesses the means and the op­por­tu­ni­ties to push its ide­o­log­i­cal agenda for­ward, why does it re­act so heavy-hand­edly to even the small­est in­di­ca­tions of dis­sent? Why it is that a young man fly­ing an In­dian flag to demon­strate his love for the cricketer Vi­rat Kohli is ar­rested with a speed that be­lies pop­u­lar con­cep­tions of the state as be­ing hope­lessly in­ef­fi­cient? Why would a univer­sity sem­i­nar on Balochis­tan that would have, in all prob­a­bil­ity, been sparsely at­tended merit the in­ter­ven­tion of shad­owy in­tel­li­gence agen­cies de­mand­ing its can­cel­la­tion? Why are pro­fes­sors speak­ing at con­fer­ences on re­gional lan­guages be­ing re­moved from their posts for al­legedly ques­tion­ing the 'ide­ol­ogy of Pak­istan'? Why is it that ac­tivists like Baba Jan in GB end up fac­ing anti-ter­ror­ism courts for protest­ing against the state, and trade union­ists meet the same fate for de­mand­ing an­swers about the pri­va­ti­za­tion of na­tional as­sets? What all th­ese in­ci­dents and in­di­vid­u­als have in com­mon is the ar­guably dis­pro­por­tion­ate at­ten­tion they re­ceived from a state that should not have been threat­ened by them in any mean­ing­ful way.

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