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O Yagyavalkya: Modern questions for an ancient sage

Amitabh Pandey | Updated on: 26 May 2017, 15:20 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

Recent events involving the use of an Indian citizen as a hostage and human shield by the Army in a situation of civil unrest and violence raises questions that could well have been addressed to the great sage Yagyavalkya, were he present today.

The first question would be:

How many types of citizens should we have in a democracy, O Yagyavalkya? Should different types of citizens have different rights, O sage, or should all be equal in every respect?

A useful follow-up would perhaps be:

If in times of war enemy non-combatants are required to be treated with dignity, their safety looked after and they not be used as hostages, as per the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949, should our own citizens not be accorded the same or better treatment by our own forces?

Can there be any extenuating circumstances for not following such protocols towards our own citizens in times of civil unrest, not war?

May we, O Wise One, distinguish between good and bad citizens and ensure good treatment only for the good and bad treatment for the bad?

This, of course, raises the question about who will judge and distinguish the bad from the good? On what basis? Using what criteria?

The strong amongst us have no doubts on the subject and are confident and clear about who the good, the bad and the ugly are.

It is only us, the supposed whiners and moaners (they also call us sickuler liberals), who have doubts and questions because we were taught that introspection and questioning oneself, one’s actions and motives, is the only route to personal growth.

Hence our confusion, O Sage, and hence these questions.

It is said that a nation’s army should be busy either waging war or training for war. They are trained to destroy the enemy’s capacity to wage war, which includes destroying the enemy himself. As a famous general is reported to have said to his warriors, ‘You are not supposed to die for your country. You are supposed to make the other poor b#@$!&d die for his country!’

In this context, internal law and order problems are the responsibility of other organs of state, not that of the state’s army which by definition is trained to destroy the enemy and his capacities.

Yes, one can understand an emergent situation, a sudden crisis, when the state’s army is used for a very limited period, to bring about law and order and then to hand over to the civilian government the responsibility of governance and return to barracks.

If this be generally acceptable, what would your opinion be, O Wise One, of a situation where for years on end, in particular regions of a large country, the state’s army is used for internal law and order maintenance?

A supplementary to the above, O Sage, would be on the nature of democracy and how to judge its success or failure.

Is it enough for democratic states to point the finger at genuinely nasty external enemies to justify using their army in civilian law and order situations for decades on end?

Or would you consider it a failure of successive political regimes to do the job for which they were elected, solve political problems and govern effectively for everyone’s welfare – sab ka vikas?

And finally, O Wise One, there are some amongst us who walk around with long worried faces muttering away about the law of unintended consequences and the dangers to stable democracy of prolonged use of armed forces in civilian law and order maintenance.

They say it’s like standing on the edge of a precipice, above a long steep and slippery slope, where any sudden gust of wind can send us tumbling down into the unseen darkness!

They never clarify exactly what they are afraid of, what can possibly happen to our strongly established electoral democracy and its associated institutions.

When asked they just babble incoherently, look westwards and shake their heads in gloomy despair. They claim they’ve read some books on colonialism and its aftermath and are very worried, very afraid.

Hence this last question, O Yagyavalkya – do we need to be afraid about the manner in which successive elected governments over sixty odd years, have conducted internal politics in far-away places like Kashmir and Manipur, or do I mean Mizoram and Tripura, and its consequences for our future and that of our children?

Are we, our institutions, our way of life, under any threat, or is it just the paranoid fantasies of a bunch of nitwits that can be ignored without any untoward consequences?

How many gods are there, O Yagyavalkya, and will they look after us if we need them?

First published: 26 May 2017, 13:49 IST