India’s ‘deep state’ no longer secret
The term ‘deep state’ is familiar to India’s strategic community in relation to nature of the Pakistani state. There, the Pakistan army and its intelligence arm, the ubiquitous Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, deserve the characterization of ‘a state within a state’ and prove the description that goes, ‘whereas other states have an army respectively, the Pakistan army has a state’. However, for the phrase to have resonance in India in respect of India’s security apparatus is novel.
Having first discussed India’s ‘deep state’ in my article in 2018 and looked at its workings in another article the following year, it was gratifying to find the phrase in the subtitle of Josy Joseph’s recent book, The Silent Coup: A history of India’s deep state. Joseph has connected the dots going back a quarter century and presented the concept as meaningful for characterizing a portion of India’s security and intelligence apparatus. The portion comprises current-day elite national security decision makers and their implementing affiliates in the sword-arm intelligence and police forces.
Among readers of this journal and attentive members of India’s largest minority, its Muslims, what he says is rather well known. The Muslim community has been subject to the close attention of this element in the national security structure. Josephs helps flesh out the concept of deep state more fully, thereby, helping deepen the picture the community already has of the phenomenon into a thorough going understanding.
Origin of the deep state
His investigative journalism reveals that the idea of having a deep state was suggested to the Indian side in its confabulations with a foreign government sometime in 2003. Though he does not let on which government, it could be the United States (US), with which the National Democratic Alliance government was in close contact about then. India was hoping to overturn the sanctions that it had been subject to for its blasting its way into the nuclear club in 1998.
The US for its part wanted to have India alongside in its global war on terror (GWOT) that was about then on the cusp of expansion of its footprint from within the region, in Afghanistan, to Iraq. Facing Pakistani duplicity in the GWOT and a then over-the-horizon challenge in China, the Bush administration had alighted on India as a candidate to bolster as a future power in order to keep India’s neighbours in check.
At that juncture, India had been poised through 2002 in Operation Parakram, coercing Pakistan to reverse its proxy war in India. One conduit to force Pakistan to fall in line was to use the US proximity with Pakistan and use the rhetoric around terror to have Pakistan roll back its policy of sponsorship of terror. Perhaps, as part of this strategic convergence between the two hitherto estranged democracies – as India-US relations have been termed – the US may have suggested the creation and operation of a deep state to India.
The US had been instrumental in defusing the year-long post parliament attack crisis and coming up with its limitations in crisis diplomacy, including a push back from Pakistan that similarly it should also prevail on India to resolve the Kashmir issue. It perhaps hoped to have India cater for security for itself. Since conventional war that India threatened to deter Pakistan would have proved distracting for the US in its GWOT, it may have wanted to be rid of India’s repeated remonstrations against its ally in the GWOT, Pakistan, by having India cater for its security through the subconventional route, through mirroring the terror strategy of Pakistan in a strategy of sorts serving Pakistan a taste of its own medicine.
Another candidate country that might have whispered into India’s ears as part of a growing conversation about then is Israel. With Israel, the relations had been opened a decade earlier in the early nineties as India reshaped its foreign policy to face a post Cold War world. Under the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led NDA, the BJP’s ideological affinities with Zionism and a buyer-seller relationship deepened since the Kargil War, when Israel had furnished many of India’s emergent requirements including artillery ammunition, led to a closer engagement.
Israel also has a grouse against Pakistani, viewing Pakistan’s so-called ‘Islamic bomb’ with some suspicion. Rumours of the mid eighties that Israel, in league with India, was interested in preemptively defanging Pakistan before it went nuclear strengthen the possibility of Israel as interrogator to be credited with starting India off on its deep state journey. Since Israel is a state with a well regarded intelligence apparatus, including for operations under conditions of plausible deniability, it is easy to envisage intelligence exchanges between the two sides in which the deep state idea might have been brought up by self-interested Israel.
Connecting the dots
Joseph connects the dots since the origins of the deep state, serving to confirm the long-standing suspicion that there has been an ideological capture of the intelligence and, later, the policing arm of the Indian state, by hindutva forces. Joseph - courageously in today’s context – rightly sees an assault on India’s democracy in this subversion of the Indian state by an ideology and right wing political forces.
Presumably, on receiving the advice from foreign quarters, not only were Pakistani fissures exploited, such as in Afghanistan if Pakistani protestations beginning with Sharm es Shaikh are to be believed, but their undoubted interference in India magnified to a degree by ‘black operations’ of our very own implicating Muslims that they could be soundly arraigned for support of terrorism, thereby placing them in the international doghouse. The ‘Gujarat model’ needs fleshing out to add an internal security adjunct to its better known economic and developmental version revealed as vacuous under the double whammy of a faltering economy and Covid.
India’s procedural democracy enables hindutva forces to argue that their election victories reflect the popular will. What Joseph exposes is that the popular will is a manufactured one based on the contrived linkage between India’s minority and Pakistani intelligence shenanigans. He puts paid to the narrative that India’s minority served to furnish perpetrators for Pakistan’s terrorism by proxy in India. Even for Kashmir this is only partially true, where the Kashmiri militancy has Indian roots and is at best fanned from without. In the Indian hinterland, the official - and popular - deep state propagated picture of minority perpetrated terrorism is chimera.
The deep state has apparently used the state’s plentiful and unaudited intelligence resources for furthering the narrative in its information operations targeting India’s citizens and the voting public. This perspective takes the sheen off the election victories. India’s credentials as a substantive democracy cannot be taken seriously howsoever touted, as was the case last month in the august halls of the General Assembly in New York. It is this convergence between the right wing and the state apparatus that constitutes the ‘silent coup’, the apt title of Joseph’s book.
The problem is that the current-day national security elite has so much to hide that it would not like to see the regime that provides it impunity to depart from power, whatever be the national mood and mindset. The run up to the last national elections are a case to point, when the Pulwama episode was engineered to reverse the tide of popular disapproval of the regime stemming from its demonetization and like fiascos. Now that the deep state has been laid out to dry by Joseph, it would be apprehensive skeletons will spill out as part of any future detoxification. This makes it only more likely that the deep state will figure even more prominently in the regime’s calculus in future. Consequently, though the problem has been identified, it cannot be said that a democratic solution can be easily applied.
On this count, Joseph’s has been a national service for outing India’s deep state and mainstreamising a thought that has been present in the minds of India’s Muslims and its alternative strategic community for long. India’s strategic community will be judged on how it assimilates Joseph’s findings, interpretations and conclusions.