Sunday, December 13, 2009

Madness is well distributed.

In his column in the Hindustan Times ( link not up. Read page 8 of e-paper), Vir Sanghvi recalls a story narrated by his Professor, on the negotiations between the Nato and the Soviet Bloc at the height of the Cold War,

Apparently, Kissinger had a bright idea to convince his Russian counterpart that President Richard Nixon was unstable. Nixon drank late into the night, flew into rages, went down on one knee at the Oval to listen to the voice of Jesus, Kissinger would point out. In simple words, Nixon was a madman. Who knows, Kissinger would hint to the Russians, if mad Nixon was provoked, he might press the red button and nuke Moscow. This tactic, explains Sanghvi, proved to be a very effective negotiating ploy and helped keep the Russians in check.

Sanghvi then argues that Pakistan has been using this Madman theory to perfection against the Indians for decades. Years after she quit power, Benazir admitted to Sanghvi that the militants were pushed into India by the ISI, but that she couldn’t control them. Nawaz Sharif would blame the military for the Kargil invasion. Musharraf would wash off his hands and say that it was the mujahideen factor. So, each time an ‘uncontrollable madman’ was invoked and held responsible for any misadventure.

Whereas, says Sanghvi, whenever an Indian leader talks to Pakistan, he acts like a statesman showing flexibility and a willingness to go the extra mile. There is no passing of the buck; no third party is brought into the picture.

This is where I don’t agree with Sanghvi. While we may not have used the Madman theory against Pakistan, Indian prime ministers have routinely used Pakistan as a bogey- the Madman, if you will- to create a perception of a serious threat to the nation and to divert attention from internal issues. One cannot downplay the threat, but if we let that dominate our policies and relationships with the rest of the world- as we have- we are plain mad. Madness is not a monopoly of the Pakistanis. It is well spread on both sides of the border.

As a metaphor on Indo-Pak madness, I recall this hilarious story called “Toba Tek Singh” (I found the reference in one of the essays of Salman Rushdie) by Hasan Munto. It describes the scene in a lunatic asylum near the frontier, at the time of Partition. A decision has been taken that the lunatics too must be partitioned, Indian lunatics to India, Pakistani lunatics to Pakistan. Utter confusion prevails as the exact location of the frontier is not known, nor the places of origin of insane persons. But the partition of lunatics had to be done anyway. A character called Bashan Singh who keeps muttering nonsense such as "Upar di gur gur di annexe di dhiyana di mung di daal of di Pakistan and Hindustan of di dar fatay mun!" reminds me quite a bit of the speeches delivered by our politicians from time to time..

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