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The Emperor’s New Clothes: Imperialism and Colonialism in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

For those of you, who think that colonial history of India ended with the declaration of independence in 1950s, let the children’s story by Hans Christian Anderson serve as a parable. This story is not very different from the actually existing conditions in the Islands. The despotism of the administration through the authority vested upon them by the central government is very much in tandem with the imperialist measures of control by the British. Fortunately for the Indian bureaucrats and officials, there has been no man or woman as brave now, fearsome and fearless as Sher Ali who executed Lord Mayo, one of the top notch British officials in an assembly of the highest authority. No, people were convicts of the British Empire then, as they are slaves of wage labor for the administration of Indian government now.

Coming back to the story of the emperor, who in this case is the retired Admiral D.K Joshi, in person, but no emperor is just a person, as is obvious with the  motto “The King is dead, Long live the King!”. D. K Joshi is also the embodiment of supreme authority of the central government deployed and employed as the highest functionary of Andaman and Nicobar in the post of Lieutenant Governor. This Emperor, the Lieutenant Governor, is the supreme leader of his people, followed by spineless sycophantic bootlicking government servants, who should ideally be serving the public as civil servants. However, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, only the scenery is ideal, and all the rest, from the lives of average people to the ambitions of local political leaders are dystopian mechanisms no less torturous than the devices still found in Cellular Jail.

The state of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, reduced to a mere occupied territory, has not been able to shrug off its imperial trauma. Rather, it makes a freakish show of its deformities, like David Lynch’s The Elephant Man. Tyrants still preside over the authoritative positions in Andaman and Nicobar, like a colony, with the coercive force of locally hired bodies of police and opportunist stooges like Zilla Parishad representatives siding with the administration to get a piece of the pie, or at least some scraps from the floor of the so called democracy. When Malcolm X was addressing the Black people of America, his words also made sense in the context of the islanders when he said “We have never known democracy, all we have known and seen is hypocrisy!”

It is precisely to somber and enliven the depressing and morbid impulses of the islanders who have chosen to forego their past in the mainland that stories are needed  to not only tell the truth in an interesting way but also to question the lies told to us disguised as truths. It is only, and its fearsome force of repercussion that islanders are lulled to subjugation letting go of even the most basic rights and necessities like a proper university, health infrastructure, stable power supply and strong communications network. However, these do not even factor into the consideration of the emperor D. K Joshi who is lavished in his mansion on top of the hill literally named “King’s Estate” (RajNiwas) surrounded by an insular and pleasant entourage of bureaucrats and civil servants who are not fit to be called by the latter term.

Be that as it may, in the land of the emperor, the customs dictate the norms to be followed, and people follow them, subserviently as docile and “calm as Hindu cows” to borrow a phrase from Tyler Durden from the film Fight Club. So the story goes, the subjects are awed by the power and fear against the tyrannical and despotic rule of the emperor, while nothing of note or worth is done in the name of the people. Most of them live hand to mouth, send their children outside the territory to work and send money back home or study, if there is money to study. All this while, the emperor and his band of viziers and courtiers, the local administrators, live lavish lives in luxury, with karaoke parties at the TSG Emerald Hotel or drinking rounds at the Nico Bar lounge of the Bay Island hotel. The people are forced to work like serfs, while the prosperity of Prospero is built upon the strict servitude of the islanders like Caliban, under the tyranny of Andaman and Nicobar administration, which can use and abuse their authority like the Taliban.

It can be further deduced from the above circumstances even to the mind of a simpleton that wit doesn’t count for much in these lands. That too has an origin story that lies in the tortured and saggy bosom of the emperor. His days at the naval College in the U.S teach him the way to make his mark in the military-industrial complex and though he boasted of expertise in submarine warfare, he had to take responsibility for setting fire in the submarine. Now how do you set fire on something which is surrounded on all sides by water? The question still remains comic, but the death of two officers upon the watch of the Chief of Navy D. K. Joshi gives the entire scenario a tragicomic twist, much like the deaths of Yossarian’s friends in Catch-22.

As the American phrase goes “Well, what do you know?”,  after some years and a rather politically motivated but intellectually stunted appointment of Janakpuri M.P as the Lieutenant Governor, the emperor is crowned and enthroned. Now a nice profile article in the Times of India (or is it the Hindustan Times?) states that he is rather discomforted around bureaucrats and talking to journalists. Yet the emperor issues edicts every third day in his daily telegram to his loyal subjects and slaves. Then the emperor wishes to be clothed with a new robe of authority. So he went to the best tailor in Delhi, the Niti Ayog, and they said we are dressing you up as the Vice-Chairman of Islands Development Association.

These are the emperor’s new clothes. He was dressed to look smooth, in order to maintain a smooth functioning in the “holistic development of the islands keeping in mind the biodiversity”. These quotations by the Vice Chairman were not as promising as Vice Chairman Lin Biao of the People’s Liberation Army in Mao’s China, where he proclaimed that “imperialism is heading towards worldwide collapse and socialism is heading towards worldwide victory”. The latter slogan was followed by revolutionary movements inspired by advancement of socialist thoughts in China in advanced European countries like France and Germany.

Filmmakers like Godard were inspired to make films like Le Chinoise and intellectuals like Ranajit Guha and Partha Chatterjee were motivated to write peasant’s history and bring marginalized voices to the record of history which led to the foundation of the subaltern school of historiography. The slogans of the emperor were as useless as they were invisible. These clothes by the name of Islands Development Association were made by tricksters and hucksters of which there are many in the national court of Modi and Amit Shah. These class-act thugs duped our already tragicomic emperor in promising to strengthen the integrity of the social fabric while they did what thugs do best, i.e. smooth talking to cut through deep pockets and make business out of measly intercourse. Of course, if by intercourse of these thugs you are thinking of matters taking a sexual dalliance, then you seem to misunderstand, much like the innocent people of Andaman and Nicobar islands, the trick of appearances. It might be hard for you to believe otherwise, because unlike the hucksters Modi and Amit Shah, this representation is not veiled by coercive force of naked authority in the name of public welfare. Let a spade be called a spade if claims of honesty are to be made!

The government of India is bankrupt in the order of calling out the corruption and the utter destitution which has transformed institutions of government into dens of prostitutions where the will and consent of government officials as well as the people the aid of the government have to wait in lines. The scene is very reminiscent to those hoodlums who have made their passionately ambulated around the red-light district. Just because the archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar has been free from this vice, it is now enforced and encouraged by the government administration. So the public of the islands see the naked emperor strut about in the new clothes of authority with impotence on the part of the people and impunity on the part of the emperor and his entourage.

This tale traditionally ends with a small boy calling out the nakedness of the emperor which makes the emperor actually realize his own foolishness, but if that emperor is foolish enough to sink a submarine, kill naval officers, and then become a bureaucrat while remaining completely ineffective in his position of power, then further consolidating his ineffective and useless authority by bringing in an even more ineffective central government, it can be said of the people that not only their own generation that is doomed but many generations coming after them.

Just because things have gone on in this way, does not mean that it will have to continue in this fashion. There are means, popular as well as revolutionary, which can be taken as recourse to end this reign of injustice and tyranny. Only a new Andaman and Nicobar with a consciousness that has undergone the struggle of practical change can force a new India. It is not for naught that locals traveling to mainland and living there are taken aback by the narrow-minded sectarian practices prevalent in the Indian society in the name of religion, patriarchy and community which is irrelevant in these islands. What is relevant here however, is the deteriorated standard of living and the inability of the government and the administration to address this miserable lacuna.

Writing petitions to local representatives and administration personnel from chief secretary to Deputy Commissioner while being fearless of their authority is the first and most obvious step to take. Grassroots organization by concerned social activists and the organization of people-centric decisions making cooperatives and bodies which are not simply monetary NGOs or self-help groups but can garner the ability of creating a progressive and revolutionary voice out of civil society will provide another possible alternative towards getting to a solution.

Further steps to be taken that undermine the authority of government officials and higher-ups, to boycott their likes and show complete non-cooperation to any initiatives and policies of bureaucrats. This can be extended to boycotting all kinds of polling process to assert the complete loss of faith in liberal democratic practices while at the same time pushing for autonomous bodies with more power to the organization of the peoples that can successfully and with the seal of rightful authority from he organized masses issue declarations and charter of demands that would have to be met by the highest levels of central government. This can be conditional to remaining within the union as an Indian territory or, if the masses are properly organized and left with no option but to live as slave and beggars living on the thrown crumbs of the empire, declare secession from the Indian territory, its government. In that case, the occupation of islands by the Indian Armed Forced will be considered as an act of war against the people of Andaman and Nicobar. In the latter case, help will be sought on an international basis by appealing to international organizations like the U.N and other neighboring countries while making sure that any more coercion by the tyranny of the administration is dealt with strictly in political and military matters.

These are not simply issues and suggestions but a long continuity of historical circumstances in which the people of the islands find themselves. The people of Andaman and Nicobar refused to be colonized anymore! The administration has for a very long time enjoyed complete authority and brutal repression of aspirations and lives of innocent people of the islands who will no more die unsung and unheard as carrying the tainted legacy of the freedom movement.

There has to be and there will be a new movement for freedom and a new freedom of movement where every Andamani and Nicobari will see themselves as a global citizen and will model Andaman according to the public welfare socialism of Iceland, Finland, Switzerland, Norway and other such countries with open borders and multiple citizenships, carving out a new bohemia, finding a new Atlantis right from the start. If thinking such thoughts and writing such phrases is seditious, then the people of Andaman and Nicobar will forever embody the history of Cellular Jail. The airport shall then not be named after someone who wrote an apology letter begging for clemency and being sorry for his role in the independence struggle just because Savarkar was sentenced to serve term in the Cellular Jail. The history that will be remembered of such liquidators and defectors like Savarkar will be that he trained Nathuram Godse to assassinate Gandhi. The islanders will uphold the history of the many Moplahs who gladly served their terms and the communists who were even sent to the gallows, and that of Sher Ali as mentioned above, the fearless lion who took down a British tyrant.

It is high time that the administration and the government pay heed to the call of the people for their rights, for their freedom and deliverance of truth and away from the lies spun by the administration and their sycophants. The bottom line must be clear for everyone from the fisher-people living in Chatham to the Emperor in his Raj Niwas: “The Emperor Has No Clothes!”

Mohammed Kamran is a research scholar with the Centre for Theatre and Performance Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. His research interests range from performance studies, theatre history, theory of aesthetics, political and cultural movements, ethnography to anthropology, religious studies (theology, Islamic Studies), Oriental Studies, Marxist philosophy and political thought. His debut novel, a fictional anti-novel based in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands brings the present and past together in a literary thriller titled “No Bridge over the Troubled Waters” was published by Sahitya akademi. He is a local born and brought up in Port Blair. 

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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