Thursday, 19 May 2022

1.      12 May - Faced with Hindu Rashtra, what should India’s Muslims do?

2.      3 May - Reprising the Manual of Military Law provisions on Martial Law

3.       30 Apr - On the deletion of the iftar tweet

4.       25 Apr - What’s Hindutva’s strategy for India’s Muslims?

5.      15 Apr – Agenda for the new Chiefs

6.      13 Apr - Expectations of the Tour of Duty initiative

7.      12 Apr - An alternative strategic reading of Modi’s India

8.      9 Apr - Hindi-Hindu-Hindusthan

9.      7 Apr – Chinar Corps under the scanner

10.  5 Apr – Whats holding up the Chief of Defence Staff?

11.  4 Apr – Taking Kashmiri Pandits for a ride

12.  3 Apr – Indian Army fails the diversity test

13.  1 Apr – AFSPA is part of the problem

14.  31 Mar – India-China predicament and No First Use

15.  30 Mar – India’s strategic doctrine

16.  29 Mar - The Kashmir Files: Upturning the Box Office

17.  28 Mar – Russo-Ukrainian War: Implications for India’s Cold Start doctrine

18.   27 Mar – Ending Russo-Ukrainian War

Thursday, 12 May 2022\

Faced with Hindu Rashtra, what should India’s Muslims do?

In an earlier post I had it that Hindutva is out to get to Hindu Rashtra on the back of the popularity of Narendra Modi. Considering that Modi has about a decade of productive life left, the head of the right wing ecosystem, Mohan Bhagwat, telescoped the timeline to get to Hindu Rashtra to 15 years. Besides, right wing backroom boys attuned to international developments discern a window of opportunity. The West that might have been put out by India’s lurch towards authoritarianism and illiberal democracy will remain embroiled with the twin challenges posed by Russia and China. It would need India alongside, and would not be averse to looking the other way when India, as promised by Bhagwat, carries a ‘big stick’ to get Hindu Rashtra dissenters – including and especially its Muslims - to heel.

Since both the aim – Hindu Rashtra – and strategy – Big Stick – are now in the open, it behooves on India’s Muslims - prospective targets of the Big Stick - to get their act together. Since much is kept deliberately fuzzy – such as the nature of Hindu Rashtra – it is difficult for Muslims to arrive at their aim and strategy. If the Hindu Rashtra is based on the liberal and inclusive concept of traditional Hinduism, there is little worry since the usual Hindu accommodativeness will prevail, as hitherto. Only the label will be different, with Hinduism self-consciously taking credit for a liberal New India, as against liberal civic nationalism earlier. However, if the trends are a guide, liberal Hinduism might be eclipsed by Hindutva which is political or politicized Hinduism. Hindutva in the reading here bears a similar relationship with Hinduism as does Islamism with Islam. In such a case, Muslims will not only bear the brunt of the transition but will also be cast into second class status in the new Republic.

Muslims must therefore not only lend a hand for the triumph of liberal Hinduism in the battle internal to Hindus, but must also prepare for the worst, the triumph of Hindutva. By all accounts, the latter is on the upswing. Hindutva is calling the shots in political culture, with other political parties being pale imitations of its political standard-bearer, the ruling party. Some posit a social space in India’s infinite local transactions and negotiations where the pushback against Hindutva can emerge, but it’s a space Hindutva is increasingly invading. Even so, Muslim strategy for outlasting Hindutva must reckon with preserving these spaces, if any.

Strategising for the Age of Hindutva must begin where strategy does: getting the aim right. At the onset of the Modi era, I had opined that Muslims must keep their head down and allow Modi’s tenure to blow away. However, that did not happen in 2019, nor is likely to happen in 2024. While keeping the head down is a good in itself, it’s not enough, since Hindutva is interested in Muslims, even if Muslims might just want to be left alone. Clearly, the aim is to survive the Age of Hindutva. Maximally, Hindutva wants a subcontinent cleansed of Islam; Akhand Bharat of sorts. Muslim neighbours being populous, and one of them, nuclear armed, makes this a pipedream. Therefore, a minimalist version can be expected to begin with, restricted to India, within its current borders, even if the borders include slivers of neighbour-held territory. Therefore, Indian Muslims have their aim cut out: survive.

A limited aim as that makes for plentitude of options. Beginning with appeasement, in which Muslims fall in line with Hindutva expectations of them, the options – in strategic speak – are along the continuum: appeasement-defensive-deterrent-offensive. Defensive would be akin to the status quo, which can be visualized as the Jehangirpuri model in which the local community mobilised to face-off against saffronite intruders. Even so, as seen they were subject to reprisal by an assault on their livelihoods by dozers. Deterrence thus steps up as an option. It can be imagined as the Shaheen Bagh model in which the locals stared down the dozers deployed for intimidating them. Since Hindutva is unlikely to let matters rest at that – having lost that battle it will be looking to win the ones that follow and the war itself – taking to the offensive is the last option. This is open and widespread defiance, with proactive outreach to likeminded groups within India and outside. This is however predicated on the trajectory of Hindutva aggressiveness. Consequently, Muslims have only the first three options to choose from - appeasement, defensive and deterrent – with the fourth – offensive - thrust on them.

Appeasement has a stench to it. Nevertheless, being non-provocative, it is worth serious consideration. Muslims, as a minority in India, cannot exercise a veto on where the majority wishes to take India. If to Ram Rajya, it is not a worry since that is synonymous with Nizam-e-Mustafa, the creation and sustainment of a just and humane society. So long as freedom, equality and solidarity are undimmed, Muslims can even participate in the enterprise of a New India. This will strengthen the liberal forces in Hinduism, allowing them to wrest the initiative from their illiberal coreligionists. The upcoming thrust towards a Uniform Civil Code provides an opportunity for Muslims to test waters by participating in the debate. They can afford to conform as a minority if invited on the basis of equality and spirit of brotherhood. If just another stick to beat Muslims with, they may not be able to go the distance. Thus, to begin with the choice can well be appeasement, with other options being forced on Muslims corresponding to the ascendance of hardcore Hindutva in the internal-to-Hindus power equations.

The defensive option is a non-confrontationist more-of-the-same. The local communities put upon by Hindutva have to respond with their own resources. This reflects the diverse nature of Muslim India, with Muslim communities being geographically and socially distanced from each other. Their mobilisation as a community once had the colossal consequence of Partition. Whereas the mobilization was to assert their position and power, the rug was pulled from under their feet with Partition being acceded to by minders of the Congress. The negative ring to mobilisation as a community was reinforced by the serious misstep in picking a cause: the Shah Banu case. That triggered off the chain of events beginning with the fall of Babri Masjid and that are yet to see a denouement, with the fate of the Mathura Mosque hanging by a thread. There is also a perennial deficit of national level leadership. Consequently, this is the default option, with the Muslim communities dotting India waiting for the local onslaughts as the Hindutva campaign catches steam. It will allow for the piecemeal whittling of isolated Muslim communities, which can serve to set the stage for the third option: deterrence.

Deterrence, in the Shaheen Bagh mould, is confrontationist. It takes up cudgels with Hindutva, not only intellectually, such as in Shaheen Bagh’s momentous defiance of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), but also physically, such as turning back the dozers sent by the local right wing administration for an arbitrary and selective discharge of its functions. Since Indian Muslim communities are disparate, with varying resources and nested in communities with differing interest in battling Hindutva, this option might serve better-positioned communities, such as in Kerala or in Muslim pockets as Hyderabad. Bengali Muslims, the primary targets of Hindutva ire, may be so inclined in areas of their presence, Bengal and Assam. However, this would be to leave their vulnerable brethren - the real object of Hindutva wrath – eking out a living elsewhere as at Jehangirpuri - exposed to reprisal. Defensive deterrence – prickly when provoked – has the advantage of sensitizing the majority against allowing Hindutva a free ride. This is already in evidence with corporate honchos advising caution that overzealous Hindutva can impact the economy negatively. It may prevent Hindutva from going the whole hog.

Hindutva may not be deterred, but instead spurred on by rebuff. Its aggression may require Indian Muslims to either throw in the towel, get on with ghar wapsi or ‘going to Pakistan’. The elite might have the resource to opt out of Indian citizenship, while some members on the borderline of faith, might Indianise and be integrated as Hindu Mohammedans. A writer has revealed that some Muslims have taken to changing their names to get by. Hindutva may find the doctrinal arguments to take into its fold returnees, who it believes left the bottom of the social pile under malign influence of Sufis or fear of the Islamist sword of fanatical Muslim rulers as Aurangzeb. It may provide the necessary incentives, quite like its cooption of the other backward classes into towing its line by sweetners either material or a piece of the leadership pie. There are enough internal Muslim furrows for Hindutva to exploit towards such an end, not least of which is the prominent sectarian one: Shia and Sunni. ‘Divide and rule’, being an Indian statecraft characteristic relied on liberally by British overlords, makes Muslims easy prey. Even so, enlightened strategizing of sweetening the pill may elide Hindutva as it closes in for the kill. Triumph looming large, Hindutva may acquire monster proportions, leaving Muslims with little recourse than walk into gas chambers willingly or be dragged into these reluctantly.

The latter is prevented by the fourth - obstructionist – option: offensive. This has potential to escalate from a rash of outbreaks of unrest, such as tamed by the British in 1857, to localized civil war, unheard of in subcontinental history. Power-drunk, Hindutva may take recourse to a Kalinga-like crack-down. Neighbouring Muslim States may apprehend that they are next in its sights. The existential threat to Muslims might energise a subcontinental counter, a throwback to Europe’s religious wars. Alternatively all this might be on a slow-burn, with pogroms – as prognosticated recently by an academic who looks at intercommunity relations – in footsteps of lynching and the rash of recently-witnessed micro-riots. In aggression-by-stealth, pogroms will acquire a justification as they go along in the counter they provoke. Hindutva will set Muslims up for a comeuppance, leaving Muslims with a fight-or-flight option. Whereas communities contiguous to neighbours – such as Kashmiris or Bengali Muslims along the Bangladesh border - may put up an externally-abetted spirited counter, the Gujarat pogrom indicates that others stand to be decimated. The talk of genocide lately has such fears at heart.

Hindutva backroom strategists have war-gamed this. This is clear from the measured manner Hindutva has been baring its fangs. It has resorted to the ‘boiling the frog’ technique in upping temperatures. Its seeming one-foot-forward-two-steps-back stride is taking form. For instance, the CAA regulations - pending since the legislation - shall be put in place along with developments on the population register. The much-vaunted ‘chronology’ is getting into gear, in stride with Hindus being inveigled through gimmicks as the Ayodhya Mandir, Mathura Mosque, Qutb Minar, Taj Mahal, Islamicate names etc. Policy missteps that have done more to put a USD 5 trillion economy out of reach - than has Covid - forces a need for an Other to let-off steam on. Diversions in inaugurations and demolitions may not be enough, but a ‘security threat’ fits the bill as Chanakya’s most dangerous threat – externally abetted internal threat. India’s Deep State is past master at putting Muslims in the dock, with the media and strategic community complicit.

International outcry will be managed, foregrounding sovereignty and treating the unrest as internal disturbance. Neighbours will be fended-off with gray zone warfare. Given Pakistan’s nuclear cover, conventional blows will be avoided. The global Muslim community will be fobbed-off by assiduously forged linkages with Arab states (that famously included the kidnap by Marine commandos of the high seas of the daughter of a sheikh and her return by the national security adviser who ordered the operation to the oppressive patriarch). Any external support will be projected as support for terrorism, leveraging and explaining the disproportionate foreign policy investment India has put in its counter terrorism policy plank. This will be rather easy, given that Islamists might take an interest in whats happening to their fellow Muslims, carrying on their respective fights with their national authorities on Islam’s place in the world. Majoritarianism will be presented as the democratic will, giving the West an alibi to straight-facedly look the other way. To the extent, there is a Russian-Chinese axis persisting, the West – hypocritical in its defence of values at the best of times - will be quiescent. China will be prevented from fishing in India’s troubled waters by appeasing it – as now – on the borders. Besides, with India internally beset, there would be little reason for China to fuel India’s self-lit fires.

Of the four options – quiescent/appeasement; non-provocative/defensive; confrontationist/deterrent and obstructionist/offensive – India’s Muslims will likely have a local community-specific choice along the continuum. These will change as the situation moves along, transiting from one option to another and bouncing back. The potentially violent options will be dependent on and reactive to Hindutva’s propensity and sense of impunity.

What is clear is that the price of Hindu Rashtra will be steep and will not be paid by India’s Muslims alone, even if they will bear the brunt. It’s for Hindus to rein in extremists in their ranks. They need to have Hindutva stalwarts define where Hindu Rashtra stands in relation to Ram Rajya and where exactly does the Big Stick fit in the run up. If the Big Stick is fundamental to the journey and the destination is not quite Ram Rajya, then Hindus must revise their voting patterns. The onus cannot be on Muslims to play villain, stalling Hindutva in its tracks and upending Hindu Rashtra.

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Reprising the Manual of Military Law provisions on Martial Law

In a passage in his book, Sarkari Mussalman, General Zameeruddin Shah, recalls wracking his memory to recall a few pages of the military’s Manual of Indian Military Law. He had been charged by the Army Chief to take his division to stop the outbreak of violence in Gujarat. The internal security situation had taken a turn for the worse in wake of the Godhra tragedy in which over 50 people perished in a train bogey that had (accidentally (in the view of the railway inquiry that was set up later)) caught fire. The Army had been called-in in ‘aid to civil authority’ after the bodies of the victims were wantonly taken in a politically-charged procession to Ahmedabad with the authority of the then chief minister there, Narendra Modi.

Shah’s formation had been deployed in Rajasthan, practicing maneuvers it was expecting to execute in case the military mobilisation after the attack on the Indian parliament the previous December turned into a hot war. Sent post haste in the reverse direction, to Ahmedabad, he did not find anyone knowledgeable to brief him on the situation, since even the military’s static formation in the Area and Sub Area hierarchy were also ahead, providing logistics along the border.

Confronted with the magnitude of the mass one-sided violence unfolding against the Muslim community, he rightly contemplated extreme measures to end the mob violence. He recalled vaguely his training curriculum passages on martial law, but a copy of the venerable tome on military law was not readily available. Had he got the passages right, he may well have taken legitimate recourse to the powers under the paragraphs in question and could well have proactively put out the communal conflagration.

In the event, he was way-laid by the defence minister, George Fernandes, who turned up untimely and wasted the opportunity of a meeting with Modi, to deploy the military force at hand. It was only after some two days of the military’s arriving that it - without further ado - returned Ahmedabad and Gujarat to sanity. That was just about the duration of time the alleged meeting late night 27 February 2002 at the chief minister’s camp office at his residence had decided the mobs needed to teach Muslims a lesson.

A counter-factual would have it that had Shah followed what the rules for martial law eminently permissible in the circumstance, he may have preempted two days of violence. He was instead constrained to act ‘in aid to civil power’, which - by definition - placed him at a position of disadvantage since it privileged the administration in calling the shots. As he meticulously recorded in his subsequent report to the Army Headquarters – now lost to history in the dusty cupboards of South Block - he was led up the garden path by the Gujarat administration. Had martial law regulations been implemented – an option empowered by the situation – his division could have changed the course of history.

Continuing with the counter-factual, here’s what could have followed. Vajpayee’s hand would have been strengthened when he invoked Rajdharma, making Modi answerable for holding at abeyance his law and order duty. Denied impunity timely, Modi could not have made a hat-trick of state election wins thereafter, that set him up to the win in national elections. The country’s record would not have been besmirched by the Gujarat pogrom. The near ‘police state’ that Gujarat formed thereafter - now aped by fellow ruling party-run states - would not have seen light of day. The spate of murders of Muslims - passed off as of terrorists out on an avenging mission - would not have happened. The dialogue of sorts between extremists on both sides of the deepening religious divide through terror bombing, supplemented by ‘black operations’ in which majoritarian perpetrators projected Muslim provenance, might not have occurred. The use of Muslims as the Other, to bring the majority community together into a vote-bank may have been less blatant, preventing Hindutva hegemony of political culture today. And - who knows - India’s Pakistan policy, initiated by Vajpayee and kept on track by Manmohan Singh, may have resulted in a substantive conclusion, enabling Kashmir to enjoy azadi as do other fellow Indians.

Counter-factuals, being wishful, are a futile indulgence. However, the opportunity has been flogged here for the express purpose of proving that martial law provisions in the military law manual are not window dressing. They are to affect outcomes. Given the direction the internal security situation appears to be heading, it is not impossible that such instances, as confronted Shah, may reemerge. These are once-in-a-decade incidences, but with profound consequences for the Republic. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was ongoing even as an infantry battalion sat in a high degree of readiness barely a few kilometers away, at Faizabad. Today, perpetrators vie for credit for the demolition. The homily, ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, could not be more apt.

Not only is the State increasingly partisan, but mobs emboldened. Active participation by police in violence that book-ended the democratic protests surrounding the anti-Citizen’s Amendment Act (CAA) was witnessed. At the inception of the backlash to CAA, the police entered two central university campuses and flog Muslim students (along with others), and, later, in northeast Delhi’s one-sided violence, they supported majoritarian mobs. In the process the police killed at least one Muslim youth, Faizan, while forcing him, along with other youths, to sing the national anthem. This is of a piece with partisan behavior of the police in riots such as in Bombay 1992-93, in pogroms in 1984 and 2002,  and in administering direct violence as in Meerut in 1987. There has been talk of genocide-in-the-offing, in wake of a dharm sansad that made calls along those lines.

The multiple targeted communities - India’s Muslims in various vulnerable pockets across India - are being deprived of the right to self-defence by the post-mob violence punitive deployment of dozers by the administration to bring down their properties, without due process. The upshot is that not only does the State not hold out the promise that it will protect the community, but will penalize it should it resort to its own devices. The movie, The Kashmir Files, proactively plugged by officials including the prime minister fully cognizant that it is fiction for most part, has an agenda-setting function. The subtext justifies retributive violence against Muslims as comeuppance.

This has been normalized to the extent that the so-called Concerned Citizens (CC), comprising assorted bhakts on a pension, have  pronounced that  the “multiple violent incidents in various states ruled by different political parties” amount to “pre-meditated attacks on peaceful processions during Ram Navami, Hanuman Jayanti, and other sacred festivals in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and New Delhi.” So that no one misses this version of the violence, they repeat it, calling such violence, “premeditated attacks on peaceful processions during Hindu festivals, be it in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat or New Delhi.” If not an instance of poor drafting, they know a lie repeated often enough gets to be the truth.

They claim that, “(T)he reality is that instances of major communal violence have palpably decreased under the BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) government and this is appreciated by the public.” To them, “this has instigated groups like the CCG (Concerned Citizens’ Group (an anti-right wing set of retirees)) to highlight beyond proportion sporadic instances of communal violence that no society can entirely eradicate.” In terms of statistics, they are arguably right. But this bears interrogation.

Firstly, the terror incidents having miraculously vanished all but gives away that they were manufactured in first place. It cannot be that the police and intelligence have become competent overnight. Secondly, the manner dissent has been suppressed has been deliberately kept obvious and upfront; to deter. The extent is clear from the use of hackers to emplace ‘evidence’ in laptops and illegal surveillance by the Pegasus spyware. Thirdly, ruling party states have abused the police, evident from casualties in ‘encounters’ toted up by Uttar Pradesh (UP) (over 3000 in over 8000 encounters over last five years) and Assam (28 over last 8 months in 80 encounters). Needless to add, that in both cases, most victims have been Muslim. Lastly, UP’s repression of the peaceful anti-CAA stir accounted for some 22 Muslim lives. Intimidation alongside included public release of names and addresses of activists, reprisal demolitions of private property, punitive payments later declared illegal, public participation of right wing goondas alongside police in repression etc.

These trends suggest deliberate obfuscation by the CC. The willful distortion of facts – such as eliding the provocative conduct of ‘peaceful’ processionists – makes credible the genocide-in-the-air talk. That the same ‘chronology’ (to borrow Amit Shah’s now immortal phrase) to mob violence has been seen across multiple states suggests a centralized control to the communal madness. Diverting from this easy-to-arrive-at observation is quickly attempted by the 189 signatories to the collective missive to Modi. They trot out time-honoured diversionary narratives blaming a ‘foreign hand’: “The narrative alive of minority persecution, majoritarianism and Hindu nationalism under the present government. Such a narrative gets recognition and encouragement from international lobbies that want to halt India's progress.”

A din is on over a Hindu Rashtra on-the-make, New India. Over time, this could eventuate on another assault on the Constitution normalized under the catch-all, “this is appreciated by the public.”  Hold-outs might resort to pushback, preemptively characterized by CC as “anti-national” to prospectively legitimise a crackdown. The parliamentary processes on CAA and the Article 370-nullity are indicative forerunners. The pushback these received and the accompanying security measures – in the first case, reactive, and in the latter case, preemptive – shows possible security trajectories. Ahead are similar legislative actions perceived by Muslims as threats – dismissed by the CC as “non-issues” - such as the National Register of Citizens and the Uniform Civil Code. Localised suppression may acquire proportions of a pogrom in light of convergence between the right wing, the State and the police. It is in such a hypothetical – if increasingly plausible - scenario the martial law provisions are pertinent.

So, what are these martial law provisions, which military officers need a timely refresher on?

The martial law provisions date to pre-Independence times, when the authorities required extensive powers to suppress the freedom movement if its energy went beyond a certain level. They persist in the rule book in case there is a bid by forces to overawe the government, though there is no mention in the Constitution or legislation on martial law. Martial law can be declared by the military commander, preferably at the highest possible level with due reference to and permission of the government (Manual of Military Law, 2010, Vol I, Chapter VII, para 15, 16). A military commander may in emergencies take it on himself to act according to his lights under the principle of self-defence, including the defence of the State, its assets and people in its ambit. The logic is that in case of large scale breakdown of law and order, the duty devolves on citizens, including the military, to return the situation to normalcy under the legal maxim (Salus populi suprema est lex (safety of the people is the supreme law)) (Ratnabali, K and UC Jha, Martial Law in India: Historical, Comparative and Constitutional Perspective, New Delhi: Vij Books, 2020).  

The CC’s assumption that a carte blanche can be wrested from electoral victories is false. India is not a majoritarian democracy nor can secularism be trifled with, being intrinsic to the basic structure of the Constitution. If and since the direction of New India is to Hindu Rashtra, backlash is possible to visualise. By default, the State will rely on its suppressive template, being honed rather well in UP, Kashmir and Central India. Should the right wing pose an existential threat to Indian communities, specifically Muslim, then those in authority confronted with such situations must be aware that provisions exist to protect targeted people.

This is in keeping with India’s acceptance of the content of Pillar I of the Responsibility to Protect that has it that the State is primarily responsible for protection of people. Taking the concept further, when State resources designated for the purpose are unwilling or unable - or are complicit in the threat or constitute the threat itself - then State elements that can and should act meaningfully, must. The concept here is also in accord with the United Nations’ theory, develped with Indian participation as a leading troop contributing country, on Protection of Civilians (POC). POC requires military resources in particular to protect civilians, where necessary with miitary force, within their resources and in areas of proximity to their deployment. The three-tier POC strategy has political action at Tier I, military action at Tier II and preventive peacebuilding at Tier III. Tier II theoretical content, which includes ‘Do No Harm’ and other just war factors, serves as a useful guide.

Such extreme circumstance will unlikely arise, not least because the ‘boiling the frog’ metaphor (that has it that a frog in water slowly building up to boiling point misses jumping out timely) is operational in India’s ongoing transformation. Should the situation boil over, however, the military – as last bastion of the Republic – has the legal cover recounted here for stepping up, with due deference to the government. Awareness of this may deter, prevention being better than cure.