The ghosts of Kargil have been buried, says Indian sociologist Ashish
Professor Ashish Nandy is a political psychologist, sociologist and director
of Delhi's Center for the Study of Developing Societies. He's also a versatile
author, having written books on post-colonialism, alternative sciences,
psychology and cricket. He recently spoke with TIME Asia associate editor
Aparisim Ghosh. Excerpts of their conversation:
TIME: Dr. Nandy, it has been a year since Kargil, and the jingoism
that we saw during the conflict has died down somewhat. Has there been
any inquiry into the lasting impact of Kargil on the Indian psyche?
Nandy: No. First of all, the jingoism that you saw was primarily that
of the middle class. And this was reflected in the newspapers and the
media. I am sure other Indians were patriotic, but their voices were not
frequently heard. In any case, Kargil was one of the many problems for
them. They have other problems--of surviving. So as a result, the Kargil
episode did not leave that much of an imprint on the way people voted,
or the positions they took on political issues close to their heart. When
the regime itself did not gain as much benefit, as much political mileage,
as it thought it would from conflict, naturally the interest gradually
declined. The politicians were less inclined to stoke chauvinism and the
media also became less enthusiastic about projecting an issue on which
there seemed to be at least a full consensus in the middle class. So I
guess that the tremendous hoo-ha that was generated in the wake of the
conflict has now become a somewhat distant memory.
TIME: And yet we see traces here and there. There are still advertising
campaigns that seem to hint at war. Some recent movies explore the theme
Nandy: They always do. It does not mean that all these movies will
succeed at the box office. And when they succeed the formula is such,
the styling is such, that often it has very interesting results. For example,
a movie based on the 1971 war became very popular a few years ago. It
was called Border and it aroused hostility in some quarters in England,
where video stores often distribute Indian films. Some young Pakistanis
objected, saying it humiliated Pakistan and showed its defeat. But in
Pakistan itself, the songs in the movie were a great hit. I do not think
that they were bothered about it. The audience does not look at these
films the way they look at a Hollywood war film.
TIME: Going by the responses on Timeasia.com's "Subcontinental Drift"
bulletin board, it seems the diaspora tend to have much stronger opinions,
whether they are Indians or Pakistanis, about subcontinental issues than
people in the subcontinent itself. You might say that they are more nationalistic
than the families back home.
Nandy: Yes of course, because these people do not really have the
kind of roots they would like to have in India or in Pakistan. They don't
have community ties of the kind they would like to have. So they have
to hold on to this image they have of India and Pakistan and their own
sense of commitment to these two countries--nationalist commitment. It's
almost like an obsession. And this is not only true of Indians and Pakistanis,
this is true of all uprooted communities. The American-Irish continue
to support the IRA, more than the Irish themselves probably do. [Palestinian
leader Yasser] Arafat has said he finds it easier to live with Israel
than with the Jewish community of the United States.
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Immediately after Kargil there was an upsurge in the interest in the military.
The Indian army before that seemed to have been tucked away in some corner
of the public consciousness. People were sort of vaguely aware that the
military existed and didn't have any real interaction with soldiers. But
now there seems to be a special place for the military in the minds of
Indians. Is that how you read the situation?
Nandy: Not fully, because I have seen similar respect for the army
during the 1971 war. There was more this time, perhaps because of the
media, but I do not think that the quality was much different. In fact,
the appeal of the Indian army is that most Indians only need the army
once in a few years in the battlefield. Except in some small areas, like
the northeast and Kashmir, Indian people do not generally come across
the army. The army is seen as a less corrupt, apolitical entity which,
within limits, is better than other institutions in India. So there is
some natural respect. And that respect is endorsed by the fact that the
army does not take any direct interest in Indian public life. And if you
think that the Indian concept of the army has changed, in this respect
I would not agree.
TIME: Let's talk about Kashmir. Before Kargil, most Indians were not
really engaged in Kashmir. It was in the newspapers but people didn't
really pay that much attention. Kargil brought everything into sharp focus.
Has that changed? A year on, has the Kashmir issue, too, been sent off
into the distant vaults of memory?
Nandy: I wouldn't say so, though to some extent this is true. Kashmir
has never been a center to Indian consciousness, not even to the consciousness
of Indian Muslims, particularly if they happen to be from the South or
the East. Nor did I see the Kashmiri Muslims that concerned about Kargil.
There was a distance of some kind, which is, I guess, a pity. At this
point in time, Kashmir is in the public consciousness in the way Punjab
was a few years ago because of the militancy there. But I'm afraid there
is no clear image of Kashmir on which you can build a more meaningful
dialogue with the Kashmiris or the Pakistanis. Nor is there any serious
concern about the bloodletting in Kashmir. It is all seen as the doing
of the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] and the terrorists, as the Indians
would say. This is a pity.
TIME: You have contacts with your counterparts in Pakistan and your
center has links with similar organizations there. What is your reading
on the impact of Kargil on the psychology of Pakistan?
Nandy: I think there are two ambivalent strands. I may be wrong because
I have not been to Pakistan since Kargil, and have not done any systematic
survey. I am guessing on the basis of the Pakistani media and my friends.
And my guess would be that there are two identifiable strands within Pakistani
public consciousness. One strand of consciousness believes that Kargil
was essentially a mistake, in the sense that they got nothing out of it.
They don't believe that Pakistan was defeated by India. They believe that
the U.S. and the international community forced Pakistan back from a winning
position. But they also believe that the Pakistani regime was not sagacious
enough to plan a strategy in such a way that these factors could be taken
into account and bypassed. So in some sense Pakistan has messed up things
for themselves, despite being on a winning wicket. The other strand of
consciousness believes that Kargil was a success to the extent that it
again put Kashmir on the international agenda. It made the issue conspicuous,
made the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir a central issue, or at least
one of the major issues of the global community, and that is a gain because
without Kargil India would have just sat tight in Kashmir and done nothing
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On the visit of President Clinton to the subcontinent, there was much
said and written about his public-relations success there. Was that also
fleeting? Has that left any lasting impact on the way Indians perceive
America, American companies and American interests?Features Home | TIME Asia home
Nandy: I think Indians never had any deep hostility towards the United
States even when the relationship between these two countries was tense.
Ordinary Indians have warm feelings towards Americans. Most Indians want
to be born as an American in their next birth. Things are not really different
in Pakistan, or in the case of the majority of the world. Only Americans
don't want to be born as Americans--they want to be born as something
else. However, what the Clinton visit did was to kind of endorse this
popular view of America as a kind of El Dorado where you can make your
fortunes, or your children can make their fortunes. In some sense there
was this artificial gap between what the intelligentsia felt and what
the public felt. I mean one can even venture the hypothesis that intellectuals
also had two selves, even those intellectuals constantly attacking the
U.S. for the obscenities of capitalism, while sending their children to
the U.S. for their education. The situation is healthier todayŠSo perhaps
the Clinton visit has reduced the Indo-American relationship to a more
normal bilateral relationship.
TIME: Did the fact that President Clinton go to Pakistan and chide
the government satisfy Indians?
Nandy: I think primarily it was the media which went to town with
that. I suspect that outside the 20-25% of Indians that constitute the
main clientele of the media, most other Indians were not interested in
that part of the story. They couldn't care less. In Pakistan, the regime
tried to gloss over the whole episode and tried to make it look like,
not a chastisement, but a frank exchange of views. Some commentators did
try to say that Pakistan was on the losing side, but I doubt very much
that this view went very farŠ
TIME: If we can come back to Kargil, another summer is upon us and
there are rumblings that another event of that nature might take place.
Are Indians better prepared, psychologically, to deal with another small
Nandy: I doubt whether Indians are prepared, or, for that matter,
whether the Pakistanis are prepared. I think both countries are to some
extent tired. They might talk of war, might still use jingoism, but it
is very difficult to sustain the momentum of xenophobia in this part of
the world. People have gone on to other things. The regimes must wait
at least 4 to 5 years for the public to be willing to accept another encounter
of this kind.
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