Thoughts on economics and liberty

What is courage?

I have recently made a big deal about the concept of courage. I also gave a few examples – of Lajpat Rai, Gandhi, and even Hiteswar Saikia. Let me bring this material together into a single blog post and also provide a few additional thoughts. (My comments made earlier on these three people are consolidated at the end of this post).

Basically, it is major issue for someone who proclaims himself to be a leader to RUN from the field and hide behind women. This kind of behaviour simply doesn't fit my model of leadership.

Compare this kind of behaviour with that of our soldiers. If they were to desert the battlefield, then what would we do to them? Court martial them. They could be imprisoned for life. 

I know that there is great power in non-violence. The idea of satyagraha is very powerful. But very few people know how to use this idea properly. Above all, it requires HUGE courage to follow a non-violent approach. Ramdev needs to develop courage and belief in himself. Then all these extra props (of 11,000 people to support him) that he now wants will become totally unnecessary. There is great power in self-belief.

Let me add two more examples of courage here, from my experience with Bodo terrorists in India. Note that I'm not condoning terrorism but I'm talking about courage. And that is something visceral: it is a basic human trait that we can recognise and appreciate even if we detest the goals the person stands for or the methods he uses.

Example 1: In 1989, the northern parts of Barpeta district (map here) came under the influence of Bodo extremists who wanted a separate state for Bodos. My job as Deputy Commissioner was two fold: (a) to ensure that development reached all parts of the district so that the attractiveness of terrorist ideas was reduced, and (b) to ensure that terrorists were identified and captured. As part of the second work, my outstanding friend and colleague, the Superintendent of Police Ajit Das and I had worked out a series of ambushes on routes where we thought, based on intelligence gathered, the terrorists would typically travel at night. These were early morning ambushes. The police would go out to a designated spot before sunrise and wait quietly for terrorists to pass that way in the early morning.

In one of these ambushes, terrorists were found and a gun fight took place. I forget the number who were arrested, but there was one who was badly injured. I got the information early in the morning and rushed to the ambush spot which I reached just about half an hour or so after the ambush. There I found this Bodo terrorist, about 20 years old, with a large chunk of flesh coming out of his thigh, where the bullet had hit him. This terrorist was sitting, handcuffed along with others at the back of a jeep. His thigh bone was visible. It was cold in the morning (near the Manas game sanctuary) and this person must have been experiencing high levels of pain.

However, and this is what I mean by courage, this terrorist was TOTALLY CALM, as if not even an ant had bit him. He would not speak when questioned (that was something for us to deal with later, anyway), but what impressed me was his great courage. He knew what it means to stand for something, even if his methods were wrong. Courage shone through his eyes. 

Example 2: The second is the case of another Bodo terrorist (about the same age or younger than the above one) who was captured by the police in Barpeta. This terrorist was involved in planting a bomb on a bus which killed about five people and badly injured many others (I was the first to reach the place – about 5 kilometers outside Barpeta town – upon hearing of the bus attack, and I clearly remember the horrendous spread of body parts, legs, and others; and blood everywhere). The point, though, is that this terrorist, while being caught, received a gun shot in his stomach, and the bullet made a hole from one part of his stomach to the other (not a very big hole for it was near the navel – but a hole nevertheless). 

This terrorist was then questioned at the Barpeta Road Police Station and I was present at that questioning (for a while). He was smacked on the bottom of his feet with a thin wooden rod by the police, but despite this hole in his stomach and his feet being smacked he would not tell us how he planted the bomb. Instead he maintained a face of total calm and dignity. He believed in his cause. That was true courage.

I know both these are BAD examples, for it should not be taken to mean that I am glorifying terrorism. But I believe that if someone believes in his cause, then courage will naturally arise. And ultimately, courage is something we all respect, regardless of the cause. We don't respect anyone who runs away from the field.

Mahatma Gandhi

This man ranks below Lincoln because he gave up public life and politics after independence. He also did not fully grasp the concept of freedom and good governance (Lincoln understood these things well); indeed he said he wanted all politics to come to an end, being a semi-anarchist. But note that Gandhi had undaunted, unparalleled courage:

(watch this from 12 minutes to understand what I mean) [Source]

Lala Lajpat Rai

One the one hand we had Lala Lajpat Rai, the LION of Panjab, who died as a result of the lathis of the British police. He would not BUDGE. Lathis or anything. He was a LION. His conviction in his ideas was supreme. [Source]

Hiteswar Saikia

Let me tell you about Hiteswar Saikia in 1990 in Barpeta. This man I condemn as the most corrupt scoundrel ever to govern Assam. But I respect him for BRAVERY. As DC Barpeta I told him that his walking in the streets from the Circuit House to his venue (a school hall) was DANGEROUS because of the Bandh called by AASU. There was every possibility of his being hit by stones on the way. I promised to take him in my car safetly to his venue. But this man was NO COWARD, Harsh. He would not listen. Politely he said he would walk.

The entire town was tense. The students came out to protest his walk. We organised security for him, and on the way some pelting took place, but he took it in his stride. The man knew that in politics, the SLIGHTEST sign of cowardice is SUICIDE.

In 1991 he came back to power, after being thrashed in elections in 1985. [Source]

(Additional notes to the Saikia case): That day was a bad day for Barpeta. Not only did a scuffle occur at the main road crossing opposite the DC office, but AASU boys who were prevented from attacking Saikia ran off and attacked the house of the President of the district Congress Committee. When he refused to come out of his house and fired gun shots at them, these boys went outside his house and burnt his car. The town remained tense for days.

The point being that despite the guarantee that his presence would create tension in the town, and that his life itself could be endangered, Saikia went walking through the streets of Barpeta to the school hall where his lecture was planned.    

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