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The Flaws In Partha Chatterjee’s Article Comparing General Rawat To General Dyer

Updated on 8 June, 2017 at 7:11 pm By

A few days ago a Leftist media house published an article drawing an analogy between Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat and colonial era Brigadier General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, infamously known as General Dyer.

Written by Partha Chatterjee, the article titled ‘In Kashmir, India Is Witnessing Its General Dyer Moment’ was published by The Wire on June 2. An image inside the article, which was used as the cover image on social media, showed General Rawat on the left and General Dyer on the right. When seen with the headline, the message was clear – General Rawat is General Dyer.

 

Though the article was condemned in very strong words on social media, it did not exactly generate the kind of furor it should have. Perhaps the reason is because not everyone reads The Wire.

But today the mainstream media picked up the story and it was only then that the deluge of objections, appropriately, poured in.

Yet Partha Chatterjee remains steadfast on whatever he wrote in the article.

And he has received support from the anti-BJP quarters such as Trinamool Congress and the Communist parties.

Saugata Roy, for instance, defended Chatterjee’s views. And so did CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat.

But there were many who took offence to Chatterjee’s senseless comparison. (And among them were individuals who cannot be called pro-Modi.)

It is now important to look at the logical flaws in and raise some questions on Chatterjee’s article. But before that, let us look at the writer’s qualifications.

The Wire article describes Chatterjee as a social scientist and historian. While it is correct, it is too less to describe Chatterjee.

Partha Chatterjee is a distinguished scholar, no doubt. He holds a BA degree in Political Science from the Presidency College, Kolkata, an MA degree and a PhD in the same discipline from the University of Rochester in New York.

Chatterjee taught political science briefly at Presidency and then at Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata. From 1997-2007 he served as the director of the CSSSC.

He has been a Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, New York since 1997 and has been a Professor, Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, at the same university since 2007. This association, perhaps, makes him a historian.

Chatterjee’s article talks about the Indian Army chief’s decision to commend the valor of Major Leetul Gogoi and compares it with General Dyer’s justification for his horrible crime. Thus Chatterjee’s article is not about social dynamics or about military history but about the action of a Major and the backing of it by the army chief, both of which clearly come under the domain of strategy.

The most important question is: Is comparing General Rawat to General Dyer logical?



Forget about it being right or wrong, the entire comparison is illogical. Why?

The simple answer to that is General Rawat is an army chief who, (i) did not commit the action which created the controversy, and, (ii) did not justify the killing of anyone.

On the other hand, General Dyer killed unarmed innocents inside the Jallianwala Bagh and then tried to justify his actions.

 

Bullet marks on the walls of Jallianwala Bagh. PicFair.com

Since the comparison is erroneous, its justification, too, is full of flaws:

The first few paras of the article is a narration of the events that led to the controversy. Before bringing General Dyer into the picture, Chatterjee quotes what General Rawat said in support of Major Gogoi.

Here is what General Rawat said at a press conference in response to questions – this was quoted by Chatterjee:

“It is a dirty war. That is where innovation comes in.”

“You fight a dirty war with innovations. If my men ask me what do we do, should I say, just wait and die? I will come with a nice coffin with a national flag and I will send your bodies home with honor. Is it what I am supposed to tell them as chief?”

“In fact, I wish these people, instead of throwing stones at us, were firing weapons at us. Then I would have been happy. Then I could do what I…”

“I always tell my people, things will go wrong, but if things have gone wrong and you did not have mala fide intent, I am there.”

Chatterjee then narrates the horrific crime done by the infamous British army officer on the people of India and quotes what General Dyer said in his defense at his testimony before the Disorders Inquiry Committee, 1919-20.

Taking a dig at General Rawat’s “innovative ways” remark, the social scientist writes, “Dyer too devised innovative ways to establish the authority of British arms in Punjab. Martial law was declared, summary trials were held and over a hundred people were sentenced to death, of whom 18 were hanged in public before the practice was stopped.”

Now take a look at General Rawat’s comment. Where did he say that killing of people is right? Reread that last part of his statement. Did he not clearly tell his men that he will back them as long as they not have mala fide intent? That’s a very important point. Major Gogoi did not have any mala fide intent. Had he such an intent, he would have shot dead stone pelter Farooq Ahmad Dar – who is an “innocent” in the eyes of the Separatists, the pro-Separatists and the Leftist media of India – and justified his action. Yet he did not. Major Gogoi completed his operational duty without shedding a single drop of blood in spite of the fact that his position was besieged by stone pelters.

On the other hand, General Dyer and his men shot dead approximately 1000 men, women and children. According to Dyer’s own estimate, 1650 rounds had been fired. There was nothing “innovative” in General Dyer’s action. It was pure brutality the kind of which the British colonial forces were know for. Dyer had intent to kill, and he killed. This is why he is called the ‘Butcher of Amritsar’, and this is why his actions were condemned by many members of the British Parliament.

Here lies the difference between General Dyer and Major Gogoi – one used guns in 1919 on non-violent protestors; the other did not use guns in 2017 in spite of being surrounded by stone pelters.

More flaws

1. Chatterjee draws attention to General Rawat’s statement again. This time to what the army chief said about ‘army’s fear in people’.

“Adversaries must be afraid of you and at the same time your people must be afraid of you. We are a friendly army, but when we are called to restore law and order, people have to be afraid of us,” said General Rawat.

Commenting on the same, the social scientist poses the question: “When does a nation’s army start to believe that to preserve its authority, it must be feared by its own people?”

Perhaps the word “people” has been misunderstood. It is clear from General Rawat’s statement that he is talking about those who break law & order, such as stone pelters, rioters or naxals. All of them are ‘our people’ but all of them are behaving in an anti-India manner. The army won’t be able to tackle the anti-national elements within the country if they do not fear the men in the uniform. And that fear would disappear if the army takes no action against these anti-nationals.

 

Naxals are people of the country, too, but they are against the idea of India and have been involved in numerous terror attacks on security forces as well as innocent civilians.

2. Claiming that the image of Dar tied to the jeep is as “defining” as the Napalm girl’s image from Vietnam is again a wrong comparison.

The Napalm girl refers to the Pulitzer Prize winning photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, who is now 54 and lives in Canada. In that photo taken on June 8, 1972, a then 9-year-old Kim Phuc is seeing running naked and screaming in pain following a napalm attack on her village in South Vietnam which had been occupied by North Vietnamese forces. Though Kim Phuc was not injured in the first attack, she was injured when a second bomb fell, this time because of a mistake by the South Vietnamese air force.

Thus, again, the comparison has no basis. Kim Phuc’s photo is certainly a defining image but it conveys (and the only thing it conveys) something very important to the world – wars are dangerous. On the other hand, the photo of Dar tied to a jeep can be seen as a unique way to punish stone pelters without the use of any weapon. Of course, the Leftists who openly support Naxals and Separatists of Kashmir see it, and will continue seeing it, as a “human rights violation”.

 

Above, the Napalm girl photo taken by AP photographer Nick Ut. Below, Farooq Ahmed Dar, the stone pelter who was tied to a jeep by Major Gogoi.

3. Chatterjee insinuates that retired military officers should not join political parties because there is “only a small gap between a privileged place of honor and the paternalist claim to the power to punish” – a prerogative of the armed forces.

Here, too, the argument is flawed. Captain Amarinder Singh, the current Chief Minister of Punjab and Congress leader, is a retired army officer. He has done very well in the world of politics and was one of the first political leaders (and the most vocal) to have supported Major Gogoi’s action.

General V.K. Singh, who served as the 23rd army chief of the country, has done an excellent job in his new role as MoS External Affairs. His understanding of military procedures was critical in quick political decision making during Operation Raahat.

There are other eminent names from the world of politics who served the military with distinction before joining politics. Chief among them are late Rajesh Pilot, former Uttarakhand chief minister B.C. Khanduri, current MoS I&B Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, and a whole host of others.

Most of the Presidents of the United States served in the military. Most of the country’s defense secretaries have served in the military. In fact, many defense ministers or secretaries around the world are former military officers, such as Han Min-goo of South Korea and Chang Wanquan of China.

Retired Lieutenant General H.S. Panag, one of the few military veterans who criticized Major Gogoi’s action, too, is a member of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Chatterjee himself hailed Lt Gen Panag as “the most distinguished among” retired military personnel who condemned Major Gogoi.

Did any of those military leaders turned politicians take their country down? On the contrary, some of the greatest Presidents of the United States were former military commanders. And Pakistan is an exception, not the norm.

4. Chatterjee’s argument is that India should not follow Israel’s example.

He writes that Israel is a “settler colony that regards Palestinians as a hostile and rebellious other that must be subdued and kept apart”. This is a complete misreading of the geopolitical situation of Israel and Palestine. Yes, Israel’s formation and its treatment of some Palestinian areas can be questioned but the outright claim that they treat Palestinians as the hostile other is erroneous. Supported by Arab nations, Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has been attacking Israel ever since the country’s formation. To the Palestinian terrorists and Arabs, it is simply a Judaism-versus-Islam war.

Moreover, the Kashmir situation is that of illegal occupation by Pakistan on the one side and Pakistan-backed Separatist movement on the other. Kashmir is legally India’s part, a fact that Pakistan and Pakistani-backed elements in the Valley are deliberately not accepting. As far as settlers are concerned, Indian forces did not throw out any Kashmiri from the Valley; it was the terrorists who threw out the Kashmiri Pandits. Subsequent governments have failed to get the Kashmiri Pandits back into the state, partly because of the Separatists and partly because of dirty politics.

 

Forced out of their homes by terrorists and pro-Pakistani forces in Kashmir, Kashmiri Pandits live in exile in their own land. KashmirBlogs

And the situation in Manipur and Nagaland is way different from that in Kashmir. In fact, the Center has been able to make a lot of progress in the Nagaland-Manipur issue because of the constant and genuine efforts towards the peace process by parties involved. In Kashmir, the Separatists have been pro-Pakistan and want to side with Pakistan – India’s biggest enemy. Is that acceptable?

5. “It would be unfair to suggest that General Rawat’s motives are the same as those of Dyer,” writes Chatterjee in the last paragraph. If the motive is not the same then why even compare? That contradiction destroys the point of the article itself.

He concludes his article with a warning that if India reaches the edge of a “slippery slope”, there could be an “Ayub Khan moment” referring to the first military dictator of Pakistan who became the country’s 2nd President.

That’s a misplaced fear because in spite of having every opportunity to usurp power (the Emergency, the wars, etc.), the Indian military placed democracy above everything and adhered to the Constitution of India. They continue to do so.

And, in his defense of Chatterjee, Karat himself said that the army is speaking in the government’s language. Isn’t that a nice thing? Forget about speaking in the language of the government, the Pakistani Army has the audacity to dismiss even the PM’s statement!

***

Those supporting Chatterjee’s right to criticize the army are missing the point that the criticisms are unfounded and lack logic. Of course, the army is not above the law and should not be seen as a force that can do no wrong. So, yes, the social scientist has every right to criticize the third-largest armed force in the world and has every right to even support any political party, ideology and group of people. But there needs to be genuine criticism of the same, and, therefore, comparing General Rawat to the butcher General Dyer over two entirely disparate incidents is certainly flawed.

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