ZNet Book Interview

December 13: Terror over Democracy, By Nirmalangshu Mukherji, Bibliophile Southasia, New Delhi, 2005, pp. xvii + 378, www.biblioasia.com

We cannot underestimate the threat of terror, or the cynicism of centers of power in pursuit of their own often despicable ends, or the murderous violence to which they will resort if authority is granted to them by a frightened population.

It is within this context that we should, I believe, consider the terrible events of 13 December, the reaction to them on the part of the government and media, and the detailed investigation carried out in this important and careful study. And it is within the same context, I think, that the people of India should respond constructively to the call for a serious parliamentary inquiry into what actually happened and its roots. Indian democracy is one of the triumphs of the twentieth century, but a fragile one. The plant has to be protected and nurtured, or it can all too easily wither, with consequences that are sure to be grim.
— Noam Chomsky, in his foreword essay to the book


ZNET: Can you tell ZNet, please, what your book (December 13: Terror over Democracy,  Bibliophile Southasia, 2005), is about? What is it trying to communicate?

MUKHERJI: The book is set in the general context of the post-9/11 form of ‘War on Terrorism.’ Accompanied by massive instruments of propaganda and violence, the new form is directly linked to imperialist ambitions to control the biggest ‘real estates.’ It is also marked by a general absence of classical forms of democratic resistance to these ambitions, giving rise to what is broadly – and misleadingly – called ‘Jehadi terror.’ Although jehadi terror was in fact promoted by – or caused by the actions of – imperial powers themselves, the presence of this terror is now used as a new pretext for controlling domestic populations, targetting specific communities and launching wars of aggression abroad. Much has been written on the general phenomenon in recent years.

The book studies the war on terrorism in a specific context. India is an interesting case; also, it is something I know a bit about. It is not directly under imperialist control, and as Chomsky observes, ‘Indian democracy is one of the triumphs of the twentieth century.’ There is reason to be impressed by its electoral system offering a rich variety of political choices, institutions such as Human Rights, Minorities and Women’s Commissions, a vast network of public enterprises, a reasonably effective public distribution system, a politically conscious middle class, an impressive judiciary, a free press, and a long history of democratic struggle of working people in enforcing social policy. Ideals of democracy and, to an extent, even socialism have found deep acceptance in the system. Despite its poverty, illiteracy, treatment of women and dalits etc., India happens to be one of the better examples of functioning democracy in the world.

But Chomsky also says that this democracy is ‘a fragile one.’ The fragility began to show pretty sharply around early-1990s with the introduction of a neo-liberal regime, communalization of society, and sharp decrease in equality, employment, and democratic resistance. The combination of these factors led ultimately to a communal-authoritarian regime during 1999 to 2004. Not surprisingly, the regime joined the war on terrorism as soon as it was launched after 9/11. The point is, the regime joined the war essentially on its own, not directly as a client of US. In that sense, India’s war on terrorism is an act of collaboration with imperialism.

The book suggests that the fragile democracy reached a near-collapse in the aftermath of the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. Soon after the attack, four people were arrested for their alleged role in the conspiracy, and the government cited ‘evidence’ that Pakistani terrorists had organized the attack. This enabled the government to push the country to the brink of a nuclear war with Pakistan, and enact the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), among other intolerable actions. What was that evidence? The book describes how the media, the police, the political executive and the judiciary acted in complicity to promote a largely unproven story. As a result, the question ‘who attacked Parliament’ remained unanswered despite two judicial pronouncements, and the human rights of the accused were seriously violated.

More significantly, stupefied by the troubling issue of terrorism, erstwhile institutions of democracy allowed the police and the related agencies of the state to play havoc with the system of justice, preparing the ground thus for further erosion of democracy, and the consequent growth of fascism and terrorism. The only civilized method of reversing this trend is to subject these institutions and agencies to a just critique. The book attempts to accomplish the task with a detailed analysis of the issues surrounding December 13.


ZNET: Can you tell Znet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

MUKHERJI: The book is very much an outcome of a small but determined human rights campaign to save the lives of the accused and to question the role of the state in a viciously prejudiced atmosphere in which the corporate media and the communal police ruled the mind. One of the accused is a university teacher: Mr. S.A.R. Geelani, a Kashmiri Muslim, a teacher of Arabic and a scholar of Urdu poetry, and himself a rights activist for the Kashmiri people. He and two other Kashmiri Muslims were given death sentences by the Special POTA Court. Given Geelani’s academic background and the palpable lack of evidence in his case (as distinguished from concocted evidence against others), it was possible to form a small but vigorous campaign accompanied by competent legal defence. The effort did result in securing his acquittal from the High Court in Delhi. But the High Court retained – in fact, enhanced – the sentences for the other two, and the police appealed against the acquittals.

An even wider and more complex campaign was needed. It was felt that sporadic publications in booklets and in the peripheral media would be insufficient for this phase of the campaign. Nothing less than a book was needed. Quickly. The book was meant to cover three things: (a) a description of the general political background of the war on terrorism and the resulting Islamophobia, (b) an investigation into the role of the civil institutions in the case, and (c) extensive documentation within the book itself of the material used in the investigation. The last item was thought to be particularly important – and novel – in the face of widespread skepticism about radical criticism of the state on matters of terrorism and ‘national security.’ The skepticism is typically formed out of disinformation and ignorance: the general public is compelled to depend exclusively on the mainstream media; it also lacks independent access to relevant legal and other documents, except those selectively highlighted by the media. Court proceedings in complex criminal cases consume thousands of pages; just the two judgments ran into seven hundred pages. The editorial task of keeping the court documents and related literature to within manageable limits was daunting. Even after severe editing the Annexures used up more than two hundred and fifty printed pages. As a consequence, the analysis part – especially, general politico-historical analysis – had to be kept to the bare minimum. Incidentally, Noam Chomsky’s powerful foreword essay, "Manipulation of fear," does cover some of the historical ground. In contrast to many left intellectuals and writers in India, Chomsky – and ZNet, of course – gave support to the campaign throughout.


ZNET: What are your hopes for the book? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve politically?

MUKHERJI: The book is both an outcome as well as a document of a campaign for democracy. The first thing we hope to achieve is to bring all the political, legal and humanitarian issues of the Parliament attack case in the public domain. Within the noted limitations, the book explains the complex link between the global war on terrorism and its local exploitation by centers of power, as mentioned. In particular, we hope that the book will create a basis for open debates on otherwise untouchable topics such as ‘nationalism,’ Islamophobia, counterinsurgency, surrendered militancy, Special Laws and Special Cells. We hope this will lead to concrete, issue-based resistance on the ground. The writing, publication and reception of the book shows how far we have come from those days in the recent past when even radical activists were not prepared to discuss the subject. The process must continue and expand as we proceed with bigger and better-organized campaign strategies. We hope more writers – especially those who have some access to the mainstream media – will join the struggle. Lives are at stake.

We hope the campaign develops to the point where the demand for a serious and comprehensive Parliamentary inquiry raised in the book will be met by the new government as a first step towards reclaiming some of the lost democratic ground. To that end, a national committee consisting of distinguished writers, lawyers, academicians, and others has just been launched along with the release of the book (*See Below).

Finally, we hope that the book will initiate a series of writings, accompanied by democratic campaigns, to expose and resist marauding regimes that are engaged in intolerable actions in the name of war on terrorism.

NIRMALANGSHU MUKHERJI is Professor of philosophy at Delhi University.

December 13: Terror over Democracy can be purchased from www.biblioasia.com where one can place order through credit card (Visa, American Express, etc.). Orders are normally executed via courier which reaches in 5-6 days. It will take a while for the book to reach outlets outside south asia. The book is also available in paperback.

Readers of this interview can help, perhaps after reading the book, by sending e-mails to the Prime Minister of India, Prof. Manmohan Singh, at http://pmindia.nic.in/write.htm (Subject: Security) urging the constitution of a parliamentary inquiry on December 13. The e-mail might read as follows:


On reading some recently published literature on the Parliament attack case, I/we am/are deeply concerned that no public inquiry has yet been constituted to bring out the truth about December 13. The Indian Parliament is the highest forum of Indiam democracy; the people of India have a right to know what actually happened and its roots. I/we appeal to you, the hon’ble Head of the Indian Union, to take steps to constitute a Parliamentary inquiry on the matter."

Since the matter is urgent, those wanting to send e-mails right away might take a look at two articles for overview:
(1) "Who Attacked Parliament",
www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv10n2/parliament.htm, and
(2) "New turn in the Parliament attack case," ZNet, 25 February, 2005.

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