Our Constitution shares something with Leo Tolstoy, ‘War and peace’

Our Constitution shares something with Leo Tolstoy. ‘War and peace.’ Those three words, written exactly like the title of his classic novel, comprise Entry 15 in the Union List of our Constitution. In mindscapes as ordinary as mine, this simply means that the Union of India, and the Union of India alone, can decide when to declare war, when to return to peace.

We are almost at war. “Almost” because war has not been declared by the Union Government or the President who, contrary to popular belief, is not ‘Supreme Commander of the Armed forces’ but in whom the supreme command over our armed forces vests. The point of this quibble is that the President in declaring war (if and when he does) acts on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.

Wars, declared or undeclared, in India or by India are the work of the Prime Minister of the day. That is the first thing about any ‘India war’.

A short history of India’s wars

We have been at war five times before. And all but once with the same country, Pakistan. In 1947-48, 1965, 1971, 1999. Was war ‘declared’ in all those four cases?

War could not be formally declared in 1947-48 which was Prime Minister Nehru’s India-Pakistan war; there was no time. The second India-Pakistan war, Prime Minister Shastri’s war, also started on August 5, 1965 without a formal declaration of war.

The 13-day, third India-Pakistan war of 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s war, started officially when on the evening of December, 3 1971, the Pakistani Air Force struck eleven airfields in our north-west, including Agra. Addressing the nation over All India Radio that evening, she said the PAF air strikes were a declaration of war against India, and the Indian Air Force responded with initial air strikes that very night.

In the last of the series, in May-July 1999, the Kargil war of Prime Minister Vajpayee, unleashed by Pakistan soldiers infiltrating into the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC), took us by utter surprise, even disbelief. We were in the war before we could declare it. Declared in terms of Entry 15 or not, all four were wars. And they were wars linked for all time, for the better or worse, with the Prime Ministers of the day.

We are now on the threshold of war. Prime Minister Modi’s war. Tolstoy’s phrase in the Union List beams red to show danger, green as if to say ‘Go Ahead’. As citizens of India, we must trust that such a war, if it does take place, will be justified, will be fought clean, and will put cross-border terrorism in its place.

The results and questions

But before that happens, and while there still is time, we have to ask ourselves: What did the four previous wars achieve?

In the first of the Indo-Pakistan wars in 1947-1948, estimates say, Indian losses were 1,500 killed and 3,500 wounded, and Pakistani losses were 6,000 killed and 14,000 wounded. Nehru’s army taught Pakistan a tough lesson but with international pressure mounting and Governor General Mountbatten turning internationalist, Nehru agreed to a ceasefire. Pakistan gained roughly a third of the former State, a net gain for the new nation. India retained a truncated Valley, Ladakh and Jammu. Who won, who lost that war?

In the second war, the fatalities were 3,000 Indian soldiers, 3,800 Pakistani soldiers. India held Pakistani territory in solid bulk, Lahore being but a knuckle away from Indian control. But the Tashkent Declaration signed by Prime Minister Shastri and President Ayub Khan got Indian and Pakistani forces to pull back to their pre-conflict positions, pre-August lines. Who won, who lost?

In the third war, in 1971, what did India win and Pakistan lose? India won self-confidence, Pakistan lost East Bangladesh. India won Bangladeshis’ appreciation, Pakistan lost their companionship. In the process, Pakistan had 8,000 killed and 25,000 wounded and even victorious India had 3,000 dead and 12,000 wounded. In the Shimla Agreement, Bhutto agreed to recognise an independent Bangladesh, even as Indira Gandhi agreed to return all the more than 90,000 Pakistani soldiers taken prisoner by India in the 13-day war. Bangladesh today is friendly to India. But this does not mean that it will always be inimical to Pakistan. Who won, who lost?

Estimates differ wildly but it is believed that in the Kargil war of 1999, Pakistan lost close to 1,000 soldiers and India 550, many of them senior officers. Pakistan had to abandon the Indian points it has got hold of.

It would be sobering to acknowledge the net gains of the four wars that could be termed ‘positive’. One, thanks to India’s active reflexes, Pakistan has understood that its provoking of India by crossing the border or the LoC does not, and will not, work for it.

Two, thanks to India’s active and pro-active reflexes, Bangladesh is on the South Asian map, a permanent rebuff to the Two Nation Theory.

Three, the Tashkent Declaration (1966) and the Shimla Agreement (1972) have shown war as wrong-headed, peace the only condition for the two neighbours to live with each other. Prime Minister Vajpayee’s readiness for a dialogue with Pakistan both before and after Kargil, and Prime Ministers Gujral and Manmohan Singh striving for a détente have been influenced by Tashkent and Shimla, the latter being cited in narratives more than the former because it is a signed and ratified agreement.

Are these three results of the four wars active on India-Pakistan minds today? They are not.

All that’s changed

We should remind ourselves that two Indians — Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi who were no wimps — signed parchments in which the following was said:

“The Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan agree that both sides will exert all efforts to create good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan in accordance with the United Nations Charter. They reaffirm their obligation under the Charter not to have recourse to force and to settle their disputes through peaceful means.” (Tashkent Declaration, January 10, 1966).

“The Government of India and the Government of Pakistan are resolved that the two countries put an end to the conflict and confrontation that have hitherto marred their relations and work for the promotion of a friendly and harmonious relationship… respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. (Shimla Agreement, July 2, 1972).

Prime Minister Vajpayee’s nod for an agreement on a ceasefire on the Line of Control in 2003 carried Tashkent and Shimla forward. This was the first time that India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire that covered the International Border, the LoC and the Siachen Glacier in Jammu and Kashmir.

What is the difference between the time when Nehru, Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Vajpayee followed the ‘War’ prerogative in our Union List with the ‘Peace’ prerogative in the same and agreed to what they agreed to, and now?

Terror was known then, terror is known now, but in more ferocious and ingenious avatars. And in both countries, intolerance has come to be anointed. That — intolerant frenzy — is being excavated by hawks to fuel a war-psychosis even before war is declared or erupts.

In Pakistan, hawks in the military and clergy have found in terror groups their best grime-handler. In India, Hindutva has found in Pakistan-harboured terror groups their best friend-in-enemy’s garb.

Fuelling hatriotism

Terror and Hindutva do each other’s work for them. They offer to a credulous and suspicious public in both countries an alternative patriotism, which is hatriotism — hatred of the other country, its majority religion. The two have a common enemy: liberal secularism, pluralism, concord. They use a common weapon: incitement. They use a common fuel: fanaticism. They would die without the other.

They feed on and feed each other’s mistaken, misguided, misleading nationalisms.

India and Pakistan are being drummed into war-mindedness, not in the sense of a readiness to face war should it happen, but in the sense of wanting a war. This is the difference.

George Perkovich said as far back as 2003 — in the Vajpayee era — “Pakistanis cite the RSS and VHP as proof that Hindus are out to destroy Muslims and, of course, Pakistan. The RSS and VHP, of course, use the prominence of Islamist parties and terrorist organisations in Pakistan as proof that Muslims are evil… The only way for India to liberate itself from Pakistan is through pluralist liberalism, not cultural nationalism.” He can say, and we should say to ourselves, the same today.

But we should do more. We should trust our Prime Minister, whose mind is so difficult to fathom, to remember what Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Vajpayee did in 1965, 1971 and 1999, respectively, but also how they followed that up with moves that placed war in the doghouse.

This is not to exculpate terrorism. It is to not oblige it by overreaction and self-destruction. M.K. Narayanan’s sage advice in these very columns two weeks ago must be heeded by New Delhi.

There is no such thing in war, declared or undeclared, as tit for tat, and that is that. Surgical strikes can be expected to be followed by post-surgical complications. Who will pay for them? Those who gloat over the ‘fitting reply’? Certainly not. Those who describe that as ‘the rise of a new India’? Most certainly not.

Soldiers, brave-hearts, trained to fight and be prepared to die fighting, will fight the war if it comes. And we will, as we must, honour them. But while they do their duty by war, we must do ours by peace. Remembering that ‘War and Peace’ are one single entry in the Union List, we — you and I — must fight another war. And that is the war against war-mongering, a war against the psychology that glorifies war, that makes nuclear warheads of our minds. We must step out of the queue for sectarian hatred and line up with that for secular intelligence. We must declare war against the un-entered Entry that seeks to displace ‘War and Peace’, which is ‘War and Polarisation’. We must expunge it.

Courtesy:  The writer Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former Governor of West Bengal, is distinguished professor of history and politics, Ashoka University. The article first published on thehindu.com.

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