Neo-Curzonism: Lord Curzon 2.0

Few Viceregal legacies in India’s 90 years of British Crown domination (the suzerainty of the British Crown over the East India Company’s territories in India was established by the Queen’s Proclamation of 1858, and ended with the India Independence Act of 1947) match that of George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, KG, GCSI, GCIE, PC – popularly known as Lord Curzon, 15th Viceroy of India. Most (in)famous for the Partition of Bengal in 1905 (which was annulled in 1911), Lord Curzon also did the distinguished act of restoring several historical sites and monuments – including the Taj Mahal – within India. However, it is the rediscovery of Curzon’s foreign policy that is now proving to be a revelation for students and experts of Indian Foreign Policy.

Curzon was appointed the Viceroy towards the waning end of the Great Game – one of the most thrilling episodes in the history of man’s imperial aspirations. As a result, he had plenty of reason to be skeptical – one may argue, almost cynical – regarding the threat posed by the colossal Russian empire to the crown jewel in Pax Brittanica – India. Building on the antique and medieval imperial models of the Indian subcontinent, Curzon came up with a novel solution – that of establishing buffer states.

“the master of India, must, under modern conditions, be the greatest power in the Asiatic Continent, and, therefore, it may be added, in the world”.

–          Lord Curzon, 1909

The India referred to here by Curzon consists of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. Understanding the key position played by India in controlling the Indian subcontinent and (by virtue of its potential influence over major sea routes in the Indian Ocean) the globe, Curzon sought to protect India proper by the creation of Afghanistan (specifically the NWFP) and Persia to the North and West, Burma to the East and Tibet to the North-East as buffer states.

Neo-Curzonism

A perspective of the Game

Curzon’s two-pronged strategy of protecting Indian interest and extending India’s sphere of interest to the outermost edges of the subcontinent is particularly significant in contemporary times. With the rise of the Indian Ocean as the world’s major sea-route (25% of global petroleum passes through the Straits of Malacca, and 11% through the Gulf of Aden), rise of Asian nations on the global geo-strategic-economic stage, increasing importance of Central Asia (both as an hitherto untapped source of mineral resources and due to the war on terror) and the Indian Ocean nations having the youngest and most dynamic demography in the world, the global focus of power struggle has shifted to this region. Hence, neo-Curzonism becomes of significant interest to Indian interest.

If India were to follow such a policy, it would be well-advised to take the following steps:

  • Develop better ties with (possibly a post-Karzai Taliban) government of Afghanistan, as an effective bulwark against rising Islamic extremism and to keep Pakistan in check (the “Nutcracker” theory).
  • Encourage dialogue with the separatist movements in Sindh and Baluchistan – this would extend Indian hegemony and act as an extremely effective counter-move in the Gwadar port hinderland.
  • Improve ties with the Maoist regime in Nepal. The sustainment of the Maoist regime in Nepal is a reality that India has to come to terms with.
  • Increase support for the rights of the indigenous people of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Tibet has always been India’s most significant buffer state against China.
  • Continue to emphasize India as a soft power in Myanmar. As a counter to a pro-China military Junta in power, Track 2 diplomacy will be much more effective.
  • Reconcile ties with Bangladesh and seek economic development of this region. This would both act as a countermove against extremist movements in the region, and improve ties.

A casual reader would naturally seek to associate neo-Curzonism with either the American policy of neo-conservatism or with the Hindutva Right Wing’s aspiration of a Greater India or Akhanda Bharat (अखंड भारत ). However, there are significant differences among them.

The Uniqueness of Neo-Curzonsm

While Neo-Conservatism can be most effectively understood through the prism of neo-Imperialism – in so far as much as it seeks to (forcefully) endorse “American” ideals of individualism, free market economies and democracy the two seem similar – Neo-Curzonism seeks to come to terms with present-day reality. It does not seek to force unto any neighbor one particular kind of State; rather it seeks to accept the existing system of governance and pursue Indian interest within the confines of that framework. This is of particular real politick importance given the nature of complications in the Indian subcontinent, rising out of the fact that the State of Pakistan is built on an artificial and unattainable notion, the sustainability of the status quo with Tibet, and the strong footing the military Junta enjoys in Myanmar.

In the context of being an expression of Indian imperialism, Neo-Curzonism does indeed reconcile itself with the Hindutvavadi demand of an Akhanda Bharat. However, what differentiates the two concepts is the secular nature of Neo-Curzonism. It does not seek to use religion as a tool for the extension of Indian hegemony. This helps lay the foundations of relations with the Muslim states of Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Buddhist state of Myanmar and the region of Tibet, and the largely atheistic China.

Role of the US

A major and vital factor differentiating Neo-Curzonism with the original concepts of Lord Curzon is the fact that while the British Empire enjoyed unmatched supremacy over the Indian Ocean, present-day India is ill-equipped to exercise control over the high seas. This is particular highlighted in view of the status quo with India’s major competitor – China (the “String of Pearls” theory).

Hence, a de-facto India-US alliance will have to be forged to ensure US control over the seas acting as a re-enforcement to India’s expansion on land. This alliance would further have to be reconciled with India’s policy of Non-Alignment, whose (post-USSR-collapse) focus has shifted to balancing relations with China on one hand and the West on the other.

Post Script – The above passage has been largely influenced by Robert Kaplan’s Monsoon – an intellectual treat and must-read for those interested in understanding contemporary times. Although Curzon’s policy can be seen to be simply an extension of imperial design in India since the time of antiquity – indeed, powers from the Mauryas to the Cholas had followed a similar policy – and the naming of this concept after a British Imperial Viceroy can be seen to be an expression of American neo-imperialistic arrogance, what is significant is the concept express. As the Bard would tell us, “What’s in a name?” 

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On the Rape of Women

While India and (specifically) New Delhi are no strangers to crimes against women (and this is all the more sad and worrying because there is a resigned acceptance of this fact), the recent case of rape in Delhi has caused revulsion to cascade throughout the country. Indeed, the doctors treating the unfortunate victim have stated this is the worst case they have witnessed so far. 

The nation has miles to go in terms of the safety of women, and that is a different issue that has to be addressed in depth. Incidents of rape open up the age-old argument about “women dressing provocatively are asking for it”. This discussion is both a cheap way to buy peace of mind by indulging in coffee-table civic consciousness, and a re-affirmation of a regressive, medieval and chauvinistic society. Although any reasonably sensible mind can be expected to reject this argument as pure bull-shit, such minds, unfortunately, are in the minority. Hence, the following post –

1.       DRESSING PROVOCATIVELY IS NO INVITATION FOR RAPE

This is as fallacious as saying that a person who drives a fancy car or has a shiny new cellphone is responsible for it being stolen. Yes, dressed up women do look physically attractive. Yes, looking physically attractive is one of the chief aims of dressing up. But this does not justify rape. Period

2.       PROVOCATIVE DRESSING IS NOT CAUSAL TO RAPE

By extension of above argument, it would appear that women who do not dress provocatively are not raped. Hence, all a woman would have to do to not be raped is wear a salwar-kameez or sari (here, assumption being that tank-tops and shorts qualify as provocative, while traditional dresses do not. I am mentally incapable of discussing fashion, so please feel free to correct me on this point). A cursory reading of facts will blow this argument clear out of the water.

3.       WOMEN SHOULD NOT DRESS PROVOCATIVELY IN PUBLIC

Wrong. Dressing is a private concern. Yes, as citizens living in society, we should be sensitive towards the sensibilities those around us. The same way that we don’t wear shorts to temples, because it is disrespectful. But at the end of the day, it is a personal choice, and such personal choices have to be regulated by the law. Not rapists. The Indian Legal System does deal with public indecency.

For all those who shout from rooftops about women and dressing, how about we show the same desire for campaigning when it comes to smoking in public? Or littering? Or maintaining traffic discipline.

4.       PROVOCATIVE DRESSING IS AGAINST “INDIAN CULTURE”

Aside from the obvious fact that *culture* is not a static entity – it is continuously re-defined by society – this is just factually wrong. Visit the temples of Khajurao, or see the paintings of dancers at Ajantha-Ellora. Read classic Indian texts – and not just the Kama Sutra, the Upanishads have pretty “liberal” contents too. In over two-three millennia, our society has become more regressive and orthodox.

I do not wish to “appeal to my friends and colleagues who disagree with these arguments to see the light”. You, Sirs and Madams, are what the dictionary would define as idiots. Kindly step aside while we try to grapple with this leviathan of a system and try to make the world a little better (not just for women, but for the men-folk as well).

PS – Replace “provocative clothing” with “travelling at night” or “going to parties”, and it will still make sense. Women aren’t responsible for rape. A**h***s are.

On 66-A

                Recent events in India’s legal system (read Facebook arrests), for all its right and wrongs, did have the social purpose of educating the masses about a certain piece of Indian legislature that treads into entirely new territories. The Information Technology Act, 2000 (and later amended in 2008) was created to regulate Indian cyberspace (here, assuming demarcation of cyberspace based on the geological location of client and server machines – how else, indeed, can one define “enforced within the territory of India”?). This act was a sequel to a resolution passed by the United Nations to create a law regulating electronic commerce.

Regulating Cyberspace – the good, the bad, the ugly

                The Internet is a unique flavor of media, simply by virtue of the enormous power it provides to the Individual. Its uniqueness is enumerated by 3 factors:

  1. Furthering the cause of the Individual – Today, one man armed with a laptop and an internet connection can create global shockwaves, as we have seen time and again during the Arab Spring. One doesn’t need to be a media baron, or own legions of printing presses, or have their own news channel to be heard – a single tweet, a single Youtube video is adequate.
  2. Speed of getting news across – News is sent out immediately. This gives people the ability to react to events almost instantaneously, and get a blow-by-blow account of happenings. For instance, during the US Marines’ assault on Osama Bin Laden’s hide-out in Abbotabad, the Twitter-ati gave each tiny detail of the assault.
  3. Audience – The internet gives the ability to reach out to a vast cross-section of society. Irrespective of region, religion, caste, ethnicity or (thanks to Google translate) linguistics, people can reach to news everywhere.
  4. A Parallel source of information – With the expansion of communication technologies (and backdoors into the same), it becomes very difficult to control the content on the internet. The sort of large-scale censorship the print media is subject to cannot be blatantly used on the internet (although there is no lack of those who try).

And this is precisely why netizens believe that the internet should be off-limits for government regulations. Because the internet (and everything associated with it) belongs to the people, and the people alone, the government should have no say in how it is run. By having a parallel and potent medium of communication, the internet does strengthen democracy and freedom. A legitimate fear that share by users is that the enormous power bequeathed by the internet grants, governments will try to muzzle, fearing the people’s dissent.

While these concerns stand well, the other side of the coin is that regulations are needed to protect these very netizens. The internet created a wave of new types of crimes – free distribution of copyrighted material, for one – and reinvented others, like identity theft. Hence, need was felt to regulate cyberspace and protect one user from another.

Section 66(A) of IT Act, 2000

                One of the most contentious sections of the IT Act is 66(A), which reads –

66A.Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.: Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,- (a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or (b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device, (c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

                A cursory glance at this article will assert its importance. People of all hue and cries have suffered from offensive content on the internet. As IPS (retd.) officer, Kiran Bedi, stated, the sort of tweets that she (and other celebrities) receive are extremely offensive in nature. There has to be a legal recourse to address content that offends our emotional, religious, national or other sentiments – the right to freedom (as under Article 19), is subject to “reasonable restrictions”. Hence, a codified, well-defined law to address cybercrime is necessary. Couple this with the fact that India’s criminal laws – the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) – were compiled in 1860 and 1973 respectively, at a time when the internet did not exists, one realizes that the IT Act and its Sections are important.

Hence, Section 66(A) of the IT Act should remain. However, as we have shown in our functioning, there have to be changes made to it. Changes suggested are:

  1. In order to prevent the misuse of this act, ambiguity in it ought to be removed. For instance, in Article 66(A), terms such as “grossly offensive”, “having menacing character”, “causing annoyance”, “inconvenience”, “danger”, “obstruction”, “insult”, “injury”, “criminal intimidation”, “enmity”, “hatred”, “ill will”, “annoyance”, “inconvenience” should be explicitly defined.
  2. Furthermore, both legislature and the executive ought to be trained in understanding internet jargon. If a legal or quasi-legal officer is to take a decision regarding implementing the IT Act, he should have adequate training and familiarity regarding information technology to be able to take that decision.

No law is universally true, in spatial or time constraints. As time goes on, application reveals the strengths and lacunas in it. Accordingly, the wording of the law must be modified to make its spirit more relevant for contemporary times.