By Jawed Naqvi,21 October, 2006, Countercurrents.org
It was colonial perfidy, or so our elders said. They said divide and rule was a British way to pit Indian against Indian. That's how they created Pakistan. That's what we were told. So the British were bad, evil people who drove a wedge in our otherwise fabulously well-knit society. But for their Machiavellian policies we would be one strong nation today, a land of milk and honey. Whatever the merits of the maudlin claim, if divide and rule worked then it works even now.
Before we consider how the state has gently sought to subvert a Kashmiri death row convict's case for clemency with an insidious campaign against his lawyer thus driving a big wedge between the two, let's look at the big picture of this supposedly colonial perfidy as it obtains in India today.
The original Machiavelli from ancient India named Chanakaya is idolised by today's ruling elite. The government has named two major roads in the heart of the diplomatic enclave in Delhi— Chanakyapuri and Kautilya Marg— after this ancient Brahmin of statecraft. His leitmotif rested on the four key principles : "Saam, daam, dand, bhed". Join the foe, bribe him, punish him, and not least divide his ranks. Didn't our colonial rulers look like they were applying Chanakya's doctrine of divide and rule on us? Far from being British in origins, divide and rule was essentially a very Indian doctrine.
The Kashmir uprising against unpopular Indian administrations was thus sought to be quelled by a talented but vicious bard called Kuka Parrey. This former folk singer was a dreaded man in Srinagar in the early 1990s. As the head of a private militia, sponsored by the state of course, Parrey led an entire army of "surrendered militants" to stamp out armed resistance. Since officially his men were non-state actors, the opprobrium of human rights violations would not stick easily on them. Or so it was thought. Moreover they were cheaper and often more effective in hunting down rebellious quarries.
Thus Kashmiris were set against Kashmiris, till the day someone got even with the portly gun-toting singer. He was killed by a bomb at a stadium. But surrendered militants continue to play a hand in Kashmir's violent tryst with Indian rule.
Mohammed Afzal Guru, sentenced to be executed anytime now, was himself a surrendered militant. And thereby hangs a tale. Lawyers and human rights activists are seeking to press the government to probe the nexus between Guru and his "official handlers" prior to the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001, and immediately after it.
Not all attempts to divide and rule are successful. On the contrary they carry a kernel of further devastation in their belly and the chances for such a calamity are never dim. Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards not too long after her strategists set up Sant Bhindranwale, a rabid Sikh preacher, as a foil to the more moderate Akalis. It was Bhinranwale's sermons that fuelled the bloody standoff between the state and the Sikhs.
Similarly, the Indian state has tried but not quite succeeded in pitting tribal rebels in Assam headed by ULFA with the state-sponsored SULFA. One is worse than the other and there is no end to the brutal methods employed by both sides to keep the pot of human rights abuses boiling.
There is no dearth of examples to illustrate the widespread use of the supposedly colonial doctrine of dividing the enemy, in this case the Indian people themselves, by underhand methods.
In the coming days we are going to hear a lot about the successes and failures of Selwa Judam, a state-sponsored scheme to divide and arm the outrageously poor Dalits and tribal peoples across the heartland of India. The mission here is to use Dalits and tribesmen against their own groups know as Naxalites. There's no space here to explain the essentially nefarious nature of the Selwa Judam movement.
But the idea is to use people against people for the benefit of the state. Whether it's a lesson learnt from the Brahminised strategists or the British masters is beside the point.
Divide and rule is also a method used by investigators to crack terror cases. Part of the successful admission to a London court by an alleged accomplice in the bizarre plot to use liquids to blow up planes has been ascribed to this method.
In Delhi, Kashmiri Mohammed Afzal Guru, was falsely informed by someone that his lawyer instead of defending him at the High Court had in fact pleaded for him to be put to death by a lethal injection. We do not know how Guru came to that conclusion since he was not present during the proceedings at the high court.
The lawyer, Colin Gonsalves, is one of the highly ranked human rights legal brains in the country. He took up Guru's case when nobody was coming forward to defend him. He had defended Guru in the only way a good lawyer should. So how did the message go to Afzal that Gonsalves had ruined his case by pleading for his death. Was there a plot to remove Gonsalves from representing Afzal at the Supreme Court because there was a fear that he would persuade the court of his client's right to live?
The mysterious campaign against Guru's only decent lawyer till then got so vicious that some of the good people in the legal fraternity found themselves buying the story. This divide-and-rule campaign must be a rare one of its kind to adversely impact on a highly sensitive case. But let's leave it to Ram Jethmalani, the senior lawyer credited with saving S.A.R. Geelani's life after he too was sentenced to death, to say whether Gonsalves deserved to be suspected by Afzal Guru at all.
"I watched with admiration the manner in which you defended your client. It is all the more creditable that you agreed to appear for him in the first instance and in the second place you did an honorary job. It was a very unpopular cause and many stalwarts had refused to represent him," Jethmalani wrote to Gonsalves in an attempt to clear the air last week.
Jethmalani described the claim that Gonsalves had pleaded for Afzal's death as "totally and recklessly false".
"I remember your argument that the provision of our criminal law which sanctions death by hanging is a cruel and unusual punishment and is constitutionally impermissible. If this argument had succeeded there was no provision left for executing the death sentence. You were only suggesting to the court that there are more humane methods of carrying out the death sentence and a lethal injection is one of them. You never suggested to the court that your client is guilty, but he should be given such an injection."
Who then misinformed Afzal Guru inside the high security prison about his lawyer's petition at the high court? Was it someone who didn't want Afzal to have a decent lawyer at the Supreme Court? The finger of suspicion, according to human rights activists, points to the state agencies involved. As Chanakya had ordained, sowing the seed of discord in the enemy camp rarely fails to bring its rewards. The one flaw in this thesis though is that despite its duplicity British rule did end in India.