writings of ali ahmed ...with due acknowledgement and thanks to publications where these have appeared. Views expressed are personal and may not be associated with any organisation. Download books/papers from dropbox links provided. Follow on twitter: @aliahd66
Also blogs at - www.subcontinentalmusings.blogspot.in
A video on youtube.com
shows Vajpayee at a press conference in which in the context of the Gujarat
carnage that led to the press conference he reminds the Gujarat government of
its obligation to observe raj dharma.
As Vajpayee makes the point, the Gujarat chief minister is seen interjecting with
the claim that his government in its tackling of the episode had indeed
respected the tenets of raj dharma.
Clearly, there was a divergence
on what constituted raj dharma
between the two members of the ruling party respectively heading the central
and state governments. What Narendra Modi meant by raj dharma remains consequential and worth interrogation, if only
because he is auditioning across the country for yet another five years in
which to practice it.
In the Gujarat carnage, over a
thousand died, with the unofficial figure being double. This was the formative
event in the creation of the strong-man myth
that has politically propelled Modi to power at the Center. Therefore, how Modi
perceives his role in the event is key to understanding him as a person and
It appears that understanding
Modi has generated a cottage industry of writings, both complimentary and
critical. Early in the course of the Modi era, a slew of books appeared making
much of the so-called Modi doctrine.
One strategic affairs stalwart
has begun his latest tome by courageously admitting that Modi’s showing at the
helm has proven him wrong in his earlier appreciation of Modi prior to the 2014
Given that many are disappointed
with Modi’s performance,
a flurry of perception management activity is likely impending. The first salvo
has already been fired in publicity surrounding the soon to be released book
by a right wing think tank and members of the NITI Aayog, reportedly objectively evaluating Modi. Since the idea
behind the information war is to influence voters, voters need reminding
alongside the manner Modi acquired and retained power.
The latest episode the ongoing
saga going back to the Gujarat carnage has three judges
recuse themselves from hearing a case in which an activist alleges that Judge
Loya, the judge who died when hearing the Sohrabuddin case involving an alleged
encounter killing of a gangster by a police official, DG Vanzara, an acolyte of
Modi and his right-hand man, Amit Shah.
Developments in the case
on the killing of Haren Pandya, a former party rival and minister of Modi in
Gujarat, have it that he was allegedly killed on orders of the Gujarat
supercop, Vanzara. The official narrative put out then was that he was killed
by Muslim terrorists out to avenge the Gujarat carnage. The counter narrative
has it that he was an early source of information in the open domain of the
at Modi’s residence at which majoritarian extremists were given 72 hours of
impunity to carry out the pogrom.
Modi in his interjection at his prime
minister’s press conference during Vajpayee’s visit to the state made the defence
that he had followed the precepts of good governance. Vajpayee was elaborating
that the state cannot discriminate between citizens on any basis. Modi was
making that claim that his police in stanching the violence was equally firm
with both the communities.
It missed Modi that the Muslims,
at the receiving end of mass violence, needed state protection and therefore
were to be spared the equal treatment his police supposedly meted out. As Zamir
Uddin Shah, the general commanding troops responding to an aid to civil
authority appeal, points out, the police were selectively violent, reserving
their brutality for Muslims. Modi was either ill-informed or being slippery.
This makes clear that Modi did
not have in mind the raj dharma
Vajpayee supporters attribute to Vajpayee. So, what exactly is the raj dharma Modi as chief minister was
upholding and has likely practiced over the past four years at the national
helm and is poised to replicate over the coming five?
Modi’s flock of devotees is not
on account of his strongly putting down mass violence. Instead, it is their
approval of his keeping the state off their backs while they were at it and in
preserving them from the consequences. This provides a clue on Modi’s
definition of raj dharma.
The raj dharma Modi was implementing was to turn India into a
majoritarian democracy. This is the Hindutva project and Modi, a self-confessed
Hindu nationalist, has been at its vanguard for the past three decades.
His early showing as a foot-soldier
was in organizing his mentor, LK Advani’s yatra
at the launch of the BJP’s Mandir campaign. Soon thereafter, his role in the
bringing down of the Babri Masjid was in organizing the storm troopers from his
state for the event. The seminal event was in his being placed at the helm in
Gujarat, propitiously a few months prior to the Godhra incident. A lifetime
opportunity was offered by the incident that Modi - well prepared – seized. It
was his blow for rajdharma.
To him, propagation and
self-perpetuation of Hindutva is rajdharma.
If this was all, it would yet redound - if perversely - to Modi’s credit for
ideological commitment. It also explains his lack of remorse for the deaths in
the pogrom, likened inimitably by him when asked as to how he felt, to a
passing mood resulting from a speeding car going over puppies.
The question of seemingly inter-related
killings beginning with Haren
Pandya, going on through Sohrabuddin
to end up in the alleged killing of Justice Loya,
yet needs disposing off. To devotees, this would be justifiable as a small
price to pay in pursuit of the larger project of rescuing Mother India from
liberal, inclusive democracy. To the extent the allegations are plausible, this
would prove Modi’s personal risk taking, called for by the higher ideal. It is
to embrace without qualms the realism that under-grids politics.
By this yardstick, they were
necessary to coverup the tracks leading back to the late night meeting the day
the coaches of Sabarmati express caught fire. If the tracks were not swept
over, the state apparatus could have gone down the rule of law route and upset
the Hindutva applecart. Thus, in the imagination of believers, Modi has
fearlessly rescued the Indian state, to deliver it for constitutional
reengineering in the Hindutva image.
There is another possibility,
that of Modi being an imposter, an opportunist who finding himself at the eye
of a storm chose to get on the Hindutva tiger and is unable to get off. This is
some what remote considering that he has had an infrastructure within the
government to help along the route, that has included the likes of Vanzara, in
the bureaucracy, the police and intelligence agencies.
A pretender could have attracted people
with charisma, but not the close camp followers who have helped along the way
to the ‘wave’, by participating, covering up tracks or looking the other way.
The Supreme Court now readying itself to address a case alleging 22 fake
encounters in Gujarat when Modi was making his image as Hindu Hridaysamrat by
disposing off Muslim terrorists out to get him.
Neither possibility – ideology or
the lack of it - is edifying. Modi is at a final hurdle, an election with
make-it-or-break-it portents for the Hindutva project. It is no wonder his
national security advisor,
similarly motivated, has asked for a strong dispensation – presumably centered
on his boss Modi - over the coming ten years.
Since the development promise will
not figure high in electioneering, Modi’s version of raj dharma – a pathway to Hindu
Pakistan – should substitute. Even if it appeals to many as an
attractive end, the means should lend pause.
The army chief, General Bipin
Rawat, has taken to an innovative means to get the army’s position across
figuring in the media often to voice his views on national security. While a
charitable explanation is that the deficit in the system that keeps him out of
the policy loop compels him to use the media for conveying the army’s position,
a skeptical position is that he is being used as a cat’s paw by the national
security establishment. .
On the first, an instance is in
his voicing reservations in the run up in May to the suspension of operations
in Kashmir when he said, “But who will guarantee that there won’t be fire at
our men, at our vehicles? Who will guarantee that policemen, political workers,
our men returning home on leave aren’t attacked, aren’t killed?”
Not having a forum for conveying
such a position is not an excuse to go public. Reportedly the ceasefire
initiative was that of the home minister. For the army chief to question it was
to play bureaucratic politics. With the constitutional scheme having the home
ministry as lead on internal security, it is improper for the military to buck
However, the current army chief
is considerably advantaged in having his view heard since he was handpicked for
the chair. Reports then had it that his elevation owed in part to an ‘ease of
working with’ calculus, with the national security adviser being acquainted
with him in their interaction over the surgical strikes on the Myanmar border,
forerunner to the more famous ones on the line of control.
This brings up the second
explanation. Is the chief being deployed to give voice to the position of the
national security establishment?
The latest controversial remark
of the chief has been on India-Pakistan relations in which while talking to the
media on the sidelines of the passing out parade of the National Defence
Academy, he said, "If they (Pakistan) have to stay together with India,
then they have to develop as a secular state."
In his statement on Pakistan, the
army chief has effectively shifted the goal posts on peace overtures to
Pakistan. The time-tested Indian position voiced most recently by the foreign
minister while rejecting the possibility of Indian attendance at the South
Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Islamabad is that Pakistan
must first end terrorism from its soil directed at India.
Willy-nilly the army chief has
added another rather wishful one, a secular Pakistan as a precursor to closer
India-Pakistan ties. While reminiscent of the democratic peace thesis, in which
democratic neighbours are peaceable, the chief has made a new contribution to
international relations theory that is patently outside of the known realm of
his expertise. Since this is an area of foreign policy outside his remit, the
chief’s venturing into uncharted territory can only be because he has been
given a long rope.
In a government that has acquired
a reputation for centralization and under a national security adviser known for
hands-on approach, this leeway for the army chief cannot be on account of
absent mindedness on part of national security minders. That leaves the
possibility of deliberate delegation, for the reason the army chief can be
relied on to voice the party line.
It is not the chief’s job to be
publicist for the national security system. He needs reminding that in the
current administration the national security apparatus appears answerable
beyond the democratic veneer to right wing formations.
The media may bait him for sound
bites and his doctorate in media studies may lend him confidence to court them.
controversy. There is an underside to this.
Take the army chief’s
off-the-cuff remarks at a speaking engagement. The army chief has let on that
he is willing to deploy armed drones in prosecution of India’s counter to
Pakistan’s (proxy) war in Kashmir but a possible backlash from public opinion
and the international community has stayed his hand. It was only in answer to a
clarification that he was being asked if drones had any utility externally,
that the chief went on to say that the same problem of collateral damage restricted
their employment on the other side of the Line of Control.
The army chief seemed to suggest
that should the public be ready to find that collateral damage acceptable then
it would be fine to use weaponized drones, quite like – in his view - the Israelis
do against the Hamas. The chief referenced the public reaction to the hardline
of security forces taking on stone throwers to suggest that public opinion may
be averse to use of weaponized drones. He was alluding to the flak he received
from the liberal commentariat when he had suggested that stone throwers were
liable to be taken as ‘over-ground workers’ and tackled accordingly by his
This is concerning. The army
chief, who was selected for his counter insurgency expertise acquired from
extensive service in Kashmir and the North East, appears unable to see that
India needs to respond differently to militancy involving own people than
Israel and the United States - the other state using drones extensively - which
use drones offensively in an imperial context against non-citizens.
There is one good coming out from
the chief shooting from the hip. The army chief, in his representational
function as an institutional leader, not only voices but sets the institutional
position. For him to find use of drone unproblematic shows up a dangerous
tendency within the army.
The tendency led some 350 of its
members to approach the Supreme Court to recognize the impunity from lodging of
first information reports against army men when operating under the Armed
Forces Special Powers Act. In the event, the Supreme Court recently dismissed
their plea. It also accounts for the army’s reservations, publicly voiced, over
the mid-year ceasefire in Kashmir.
The tendency is symptomatic of a
significant, less visible, area of damage that India’s unending insurgency
commitment is causing. The army’s institutional culture appears to be changing.
The experience of countering insurgency over three decades has diluted the
liberal orientation of an army answering to a democratic polity.
The worry is that if the mainstream
opinion in the mainland is manipulated by perception management and a complicit
media into conceding the military greater latitude, permissive operations may result.
The ongoing cultural nationalist inflexion in politics, collapse of the
external and internal ‘Other’ into one, prevalence of fake news, prevailing populism
and polarization, and incipient authoritarianism make this a plausible future.
The tendency is outcome of the
subterranean effort on part of the right wing to suborn institutions. The army
is no exception. It is subject to their attention through the social media and
the conveyer belt of ideas routed through veterans with a leg in both camps,
the right wing’s intellectual ecosystem and the military.
This is yet another reason for
India to consider wrapping up its multiple insurgencies politically. The lesson
of sixty years from the north east and thirty from Kashmir is that there is no
military solution. There is an unseen cost being paid by the country, the good
health of its military. If the military’s democratic ethic is itself under
threat, the medicine would become increasingly less effective, calling in turn
for more of the same, including escalation, such as in the call for the use of armed
The army chief is a political ingénue
and the army politically naïve. He enjoys the limelight, while the hardline
gets aired for free and acquires respectability. While the army chief serves as
his master’s voice currently, the aberration of the current chief’s practice of
courting the media can end up a norm. While today’s chief may be manipulable,
tomorrow’s may be less so. Thus, the chief’s courting of the limelight has one
good, revealing what this spells for the military’s democratic ethic and
Governor, 'root causes' matter In his reasoning on his November 21 decision to dissolve the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) legislative assembly, Governor Satya Pal Malik states, "The fragile security scenario in the state of Jammu and Kashmir where there is a need to have a stable and supportive environment for security forces which are engaged in extensive anti-militancy operations and are gradually gaining control over the security situation." Presumably in the quick time lag between his receipt, on social media (since the fax was reportedly left unattended on a holiday), of contending claims to form the government, he was able to consult his very able Advisor Home, K Vijay Kumar, and also receive the input of the unified headquarters. This would have been remarkably efficient of his administration, particularly since in his clarification on the fax machine he informed that all staff were away observing the holiday. It is apparent that the security rationale of the governor is an after-the-fact rationalisation. There is no call for tapping security counsel on a political matter. He is essentially playing into security minders' hands in saying democratic oversight of operations dilutes security. When the Governor was appointed, the perception management exercise had it that a political governor was being appointed for the first time in over three decades. The subtext was that he would be better able to concentrate on the political context of the problem in Kashmir, though he indicated that conflict resolution was outside his domain (being handled by a Union minister-of-state-level special representative). The security aspect is overseen by Delhi, since the army was once again a lead player and can only be expected to begrudgingly concede to a khaki-clad adviser home a coordination authority. In Delhi, it cannot be Rajnath Singh overseeing the state, since the army - outside his remit - is upfront and engaged. Kashmir, being an internal security matter, the ministry of defence is not in the lead either. Therefore, the buck presumably stops at the prime minister's office, with Mr. Ajit Doval, in overall charge. His sharing of an alma mater, Meerut University, with the governor perhaps helps the old-school ties bypass institutional arrangements. In any case institutional integrity has not detained the Modi government any. Since the governor in the centralized Modi system is unlikely permitted unilateral decisions, narrowing down whence his decision emerged is an entry point into assessing its worth. When the state government was in position, the bean count had the following figures: 110 in 2014, 113 in 2015, 165 in 2016, 218 in 2017, and 81 in 2018 (as of May 27). The up-to-date figure is 206 killed this year, making for some 115 militants killed under governor's rule since June. There is a marginal difference (average of about 5 per month) between the killings under a democratic dispensation and under an unelected Delhi-appointed governor. This implies that the security forces were a law unto themselves, answerable to Delhi, even when an elected administration was in place. What the governor is suggesting then that the 'stable and supportive environment' is one in which democratic oversight - amounting to pinpricks by the state administration over piffles as human rights - is dispensed with altogether. The situation has evidently deteriorated: the formulation 'gradually gaining control over' suggests as much. The killings of innocents such as relatives of police men, though the handiwork of the terrorists, is example. Informers are also being killed and the terror multiplied by the manner of their death being broadcast on social media. This is of course evidence of desperation of the terrorists, cornered by anti-militancy operations. Since some 157 youth reportedly signed up for the militancy this year, and there are some 290-320 militants (including Pakistanis) around, the bean count registers will continue their tinkle. More of the same can be expected indefinitely, even as the governor's rule transits to president's rule followed by state elections sometime summer. Counter-intuitively, this is just what is needed by the ruling dispensation in Delhi. Polarisation of the national electorates - the need of the ruling party - calls for this. The demands on polarization have gone up owing to economic non-performance. The fallout on the national security scene is that it be kept simmering but prevented from boiling over. War drums with Pakistan - sounded from time to time by the army chief and the northern army commander - need to be usable, if inactive. Muslim bashing is proving counter productive ever since India acquired the tag, lynchistan. Muslim Kashmir and the reliable Pakistani bogey help with polarization. Strong man Modi cannot be seen indulging in conflict resolution. There needs instead to be a conflict ongoing for him to measure up to his image. To recall, the image was built on his handling of the Gujarat 'riots', which witnessed, in the official count, a 1000 dead. The Wuhan trip of the prime minister suggests a timely acknowledgement that playing kabaddi with China is fine across the line of actual control, but Doklam-like incidents could cost him his image. The image was most recently dusted up at the photo opportunity at the feet of the world's tallest statues, that of the original strong man, Sardar Patel. An internal conflict but well under control, as in Kashmir, fits the bill. As can be seen, the horizon of the ruling party does not go beyond the next elections. This is advisedly so since the aim is to get to the two thirds mark to reconfigure the Constitution. This means having Article 370 in its sights, with Article 35A currently in the cross hairs. The wider goal means marginalisation of indigenous parties. This explains seemingly innocuous tactics such as references of Pakistan links retracted good humouredly once the intended damage is done. A state assembly controlled by would-be quislings, supported by the ruling party, is preferred. The ideological imperative therefore explains the governor's decision and its security rationale. The security establishment needs to stand up against parochial party interest trumping national interest. A non-ideological security input could have highlighted the strategic imbecility of meddling in Srinagar. India's continuing to do so despite knowledge of outcomes of earlier forays meets Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. The immediate operational level security situation that seized his attention is at the cost of the strategic and the long term. Instead at his - strategic- level, a politico-strategic perspective must inform decisions. The Governor's decision provides tinder for insurgency. Just as dissidents cite the first Jagmohan foray among root causes, the dissolution decision will figure high in the insurgent advertisements here on. It is a blow to the widely held Azadi concept. The Azadi that people ask for is the freedom of democracy, even if imperfect, but as obtains elsewhere in India. The dissolution is an undemocratic imposition, which even if incident elsewhere in India periodically, is particularly insensitive to India's record in Kashmir. Root causes instead call for political solution. A first step is in eschewing wilfull misrepresentation of Azadi. India refuses to acknowledge this, self-interestedly viewing Kashmir as a developmental problem amenable to economic solutions or a security problem with a military-friendly solution. Minimally, refraining from egregious political hurt to Kashmiris is necessary. Good sense can be incentivized by highlighting that strategic costs are in a continuing and heightened insurgency. The political price is in aggravating the lurch of Indian polity towards the right. The catch is that this is precisely what ideological national security minders are seeking. The answer is in democratically showing them the door at the earliest available opportunity coming up mid next year.
Army’s Robustness in Aid of Civil Authority Lessons from the Gujarat Carnage
The release of the memoir, The Sarkari Mussalman: The Life and Travails of a Soldier Educationist(2018), written byLieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah (retired) was with a degree of publicity not usually associated with autobiographies of military men. Shah’s life story was slightly different from most military men, since it culminated with him heading a leading academic institution, Aligarh Muslim University. But, his significant contribution is drawing national attention to his revelations in The Sarkari Mussalman in the chapter, “Operation Parakram and Operation Aman” (Shah 2018: 114–33), on the Gujarat carnage in 2002.
Shah was commanding the Bison division that was earmarked to respond to the call for aid to civil authority made by the Gujarat administration. The Godhra incident on 27 February 2002, in which a railway coach carrying Hindu kar sevaks (volunteers)—returning from the purnahuti yajna organised by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) at Ayodhya (Hindu 2001)—was burnt and the bodies of the victims were taken to Ahmedabad and handed over to the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, led to an explosive situation. The orders for the handing over of these bodies reportedly originated in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government under Narendra Modi (Hindu 2012).
Under normal circumstances, Shah would not have figured in the story. Shah’s division, which was otherwise based in Hyderabad, was practising its paces in the deserts near Jodhpur as part of the then ongoing Operation Parakram, India’s military mobilisation in the wake of the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. An aid to civil authority call in Gujarat would in the normal course of events, have had the Ahmedabad-based infantry division scrambling, but the division was deployed in a defensive role along the border and could not be spared. Shah’s division, awaiting its marching orders for attack as part of a strike corps, was at hand.
At that juncture, the Indian Army had transited to intensive training to keep up the pressure on General Pervez Musharraf to deliver on his United States’ brokered de-escalatory promise made on 12 January (Krepon and Nayak 2006: 13, 18). Shah, therefore, was keyed up but with nowhere to go. He informs in his book of receiving a call on 28 February from the then army chief, General Sundararajan Padmanabhan. The army chief ordered Shah to take his formation and quell the disturbances in Gujarat (Shah 2018: 115), launching him on Operation Aman, the aid to civil authorities in Gujarat after the carnage had broken out.
An Inexcusable Delay
Shah’s division was airlifted from Jodhpur to Ahmedabad overnight. On arriving on the night of 28 February–1 March, he found that the wherewithal for an aid to civil authority task—magistrates, vehicles, police liaison, guides, etc—that was to be furnished by the state administration was missing. As the book suggests, he rushed to see the chief minister, whereupon, finding the then defence minister, George Fernandes, with Modi, he made his pitch for the assistance required. The revelation in Shah’s book is that the support of the civil administration, though promised by Modi with the defence minister in tow, was not forthcoming through the following day, 1 March. Instead, Fernandes took the opportunity to address troops at the airfield. Finally, on 2 March, 34 hours since the troops had arrived, the vehicles arrived and the troops fanning out in them put an end within 48 hours to the carnage (Shah 2018: 116–17).
Shah’s after action report on Operation Aman is a document calling out for the attention of right to information activists. Shah makes it clear that the absence of civilian administrative support for his division was not merely administrative failure (Shah 2018: 212). He takes care to leave readers with the unmistakable impression that his testimony is yet another piece of evidence that the carnage was one-sided violence at the behest and under the facilitative cover of the state administration (Shah 2018: xvii, 121). It is a sign of authoritarian times that even a general who has “fished in troubled waters” (Shah 2018: xvii) has to remain circumspect.
Coming as Shah’s testimony does, closely preceding the developments in the case related to the custodial killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh—in which links have surfaced (in a witness testimony) between the killing of a former Gujarat home minister, Haren Pandya, and the cover-up of the Gujarat carnage—it is pertinent in kneading truth into the narrative. According to a witness deposing in the Sohrabuddin case, Gujarat police officer D G Vanzara, known for having links with Modi and Amit Shah (once home minister under Modi in Gujarat), allegedly conspired to have Pandya killed (Times of India 2018a). Pandya, a Modi rival in the BJP, who supposedly had the goods on the role of the state administration in the Gujarat carnage, was proceeding to spill the beans (Anand 2002) and, therefore, had to go (Wire 2018).
The right-wing propagated narrative is that the fire on Sabarmati Express was a planned Muslim-perpetrated one and was followed by riots, implying Muslim-provoked two-sided violence in which the Muslims, being short on numbers, ended up being on the losing side. In the counter-narrative, largely based on the testimony of dissenters in the state administration, Modi, in a meeting on the night of 27 February 2002 at his official residence, allegedly told the civil authorities and police not to interfere with the letting-off of steam by the incensed majority over the following 72 hours (Anand 2002). Feeding the BJP narrative, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) mandated by the Supreme Court has a sanitised version of the late-night meeting (SIT 2011: 57–58, 392), one under challenge in the Supreme Court in the Zakia Jafri case (Setalvad 2018).
Shah also disputes as a “blatant lie” the version of the army’s deployment in the SIT’s closure report on its investigation of Modi’s role in the Gujarat carnage (NDTV 2018). The SIT had credited Modi with alacrity in calling out the army, dating the decision to call the army to 1 pm on 28 February (SIT 2011: 429) and the provisioning of logistic support by 2.30 pm on 1 March (NDTV 2018). The SIT reports the deployment of the army beginning 11 am on 1 March (SIT 2011: 447–48), which is disputed by Shah in his book and can easily be verified by the war diaries—day-to-day records—of the units involved.
The dissenting narrative stands strengthened by Shah’s testimony that his force, some 3,000 troops, remained inactive all through 1 March 2002 on the Ahmedabad airfield as they failed to be speedily vectored on to the areas of violence. It was only at the end of the 72-hour forced inaction between 27 February and 1 March that the state administration bestirred itself on 2 March.
The implications of Shah’s reopening of the widely suspect popular narrative on the Gujarat carnage are far-reaching. Politically, it puts a shadow over the rise of its then chief minister, Narendra Modi, to a national stature relying on a strongman image. A facet of this image that appeals to his ideological followers is his alleged boldness in the overseeing of the pogrom. Today, Modi is bidding for an extension to continue being in power. The concern in the BJP in the run-up to the elections is that the reality behind Modi’s development plank has been exposed. This may push the BJP to make an ideological appeal (Times of India 2018b). Political dividend from polarisation is sought to compensate for the damage from a succession of policy failures such as demonetisation, joblessgrowth, farmer suicides, the decline of the value of the rupee, the challenge by stone-pelting youth in Kashmir, and the numerous volte-faces in India’s Pakistan and China policies. Polarisation is seen as the trump card to carry forward Hindutvavadis (cultural nationalists) for another 50 years in Amit Shah’s estimate (Hindustan Times 2018), with the national security adviser, Ajit Doval, in his pitch on national security, calling for strong leadership—presumably under Modi—for another 10 years (Indian Express 2018). An extension for Modi in power shall prove an irreversible blow to India’s plural national ethos, democratic political culture, and inclusive social sphere.
The Army’s Response
It is also timely to revisit the army’s manner of responding to calls for aid to civil authority. Shah’s going public with the incongruous image of soldiers attending an impromptu sainik sammelan (a town hall with troops) called by George Fernandes(followed, according to an army officer and as told to this writer, by an ad hoc barakhana [collective breaking bread with troops] in which Fernandes reputedly joined the soldiers sitting cross-legged on the airfield’s tarmac), begs the question as to the role that Fernandes played with respect to the army’s response. While Shah credits Fernandes with persuading the state government to be forthcoming with the support for the army, that Fernandes could only manage this after the 72-hour period of bloodletting by cultural nationalists suggests both powerlessness and complicity. The charade on the tarmac, as a diversion till the 72-hour period of impunity for mass-killing perpetrators ran out, makes for plausibility of the latter.
Shah’s chapter on the army’s foray into ending the Gujarat carnage has an interesting aspect. Chapter VII of the Manual of Military Law (MML), “Duties in aid of civil power,” vide its paragraphs 15 to 19 (Indian Army 1987: 109) empowers the army to impose martial law under conditions of extreme disorder when the civil authorities, even with the help of the armed forces, are unable to bring the situation under control. The provisions have it that, in circumstances that preclude obtaining of the prior approval of the central government, a military commander may, on their own, assume supreme authority for the maintenance of law and order (Indian Army 1987: 109). Shah claims that it did cross his mind to recommend martial law, but in the event he did not pursue the idea believing that it was outside his “mandate” and he was confused since there is no other mention of martial law, including in the Army Act, 1950 and the other two volumes of the army’s law manual (Shah 2018: 119). Even so, aid to civil authority provisions empower the army to fire on orders of an officer even in the absence of a magistrate when public order is threatened in a circumstance of breakdown of civil administration.
While Shah confesses to prudence informing his actions, it is not impossible to visualise a divisional commander of a different mould taking the bull by the horns. In military leadership literature, a popular contrast is drawn between commanders who are cautious and those who are bolder, bordering on the reckless. A commander in the mould of the mercurial German general, Erwin Rommel, or of the bold American general, George S Patton (Showalter 2005), would likely have pressed forward undaunted by the absence of the civil administration, and empowered by their chief’s order to stunch the violence.
Shah commanded an infantry formation comprising foot infantry, which is meant to be just that, with its motto being, “to close with and capture and destroy the enemy;” the “enemy” in this case being the perpetrators of mass violence. It isstrangethat Shah says, “We could hear gunshots but do nothing” (NDTV 2018). Vehicles are not essential for infantry to have fanned out into Ahmedabad. Proactive action could have served as a deterrent and resulted, by Shah’s own reckoning, in saving “at least 300” lives (NDTV 2018)— a third of those who perished, by cutting short the duration of the violence by a day.
That Shah was not put wise at the airport on landing can be attributed—but only by a stretch—to the local army authorities being themselves deployed in Operation Parakram. The system of static formations, the area and sub-area headquarters that the army has across the country for interfacing with local civilian authorities, was then involved in providing logistics support to formations deployed in Operation Parakram. The army can be faulted for not sparing the concerned commanders and operations staff officers to put Shah’s forces wise on the terrain, on his civilian and police interlocutors, and on developments. Shah functioned under a curious arrangement, answering to the Jodhpur pivot corps commander, who was understandably fixated on the western front. The operational and area headquarters chain converges at the command level, in this case in Pune. Thus, the headquarters of the Southern Command cannot escape its share of responsibility.
Institutions have been under assault as never before. The recent court ruling on the Hashimpura case which witnessed the largest number of custodial killings in India shows up the susceptibility of the police in the face of illegal orders (Chisti 2018). Saffronisation of governance is striking, with India’s most electorally significant state, Uttar Pradesh, being ruled by a mahant (chief priest of a religious order) known for his anti-minority predilections (Bhowmick 2017). Potential fuses for bloodletting include the Ram Mandir issue, the National Register for Citizens, spillover of the Kashmir issue, and terror provocations from Pakistan. A preventive lesson learnt from the Shah revelations for the army is that it must revisit its powers under Chapter VII of the MML and clear the confusion that stayed Shah’s hand in Gujarat. The ideological impetus in politics today suggests that the sooner this is done the better.
Modi May Say Otherwise, But India Is Still Short of ‘Survivable Nuclear Deterrent’
The anonymous author of a 50-year-old monograph, A Strategy for India for a Credible Posture Against a Nuclear Adversary, published by the Ministry of Defence-affiliated think tank Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), has been done proud. India has finally notched up the goal set out in the monograph: the nuclear triad.
In keeping with the precedent of appropriating credit for military developments on its watch, the Modi government this Deepawali tom-tomed the return from its first deterrence patrol of India’s Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear (SSBN), INS Arihant.
A former admiral confirms INS Arihant carried nuclear-tipped missiles in its launch tubes on its patrol. While a triad – narrowly defined in terms of the ability of launching nuclear attacks from land, air and sea – can be conceded, it is a work-in-progress and not quite complete yet. However, it was advertised in one prime ministerial tweet as: “completing the establishment of the country’s survivable nuclear triad.”
Commentators have pointed out that a mere first patrol is not quite an operational and effective triad. Subsurface launch tests of the nuclear ballistic missiles from the nuclear submarine were only conducted this August, and only twice at that. The INS Arihant itself was in the news earlier for the wrong reasons – beached by water entering it from a hatch left open inadvertently.
Significantly – like a single sparrow does not a summer make – a single SSBN is insufficient as an invulnerable deterrent, termed in the prime minister’s words as “survivable nuclear deterrent”. For such capability, a minimum of three boomers would be required. This explains India’s under-constructionINSArighat that is to be followed by two more boats. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hasty claim of an invulnerable deterrent is thus yet another jumla, with elections on the horizon.
The celebration of a rudimentary triad must not elide the cold war logic of a triad. The monograph mentioned was likely the work of the bureaucrat K. Subrahmanyam, then recently appointed IDSA director on return from a sabbatical in the United Kingdom, at the height of the Cold War nuclear-theological evolution. Subrahmanyam later led the first National Security Advisory Board which, two decades back, topped its nuclear wish list – its DraftNuclear Doctrine – with the triad.
In a telling slip of tongue, the prime minister had it that “the success of INS Arihant enhances India’s security needs”. The triad has indeed exacerbated insecurity, not only by the inevitable response of the nuclear adversary (read Pakistan), but on account of making India more venturesome in its appraisal of nuclear weapons as weapons of coercion, enabling a bit of blackmail of our very own.
In his felicitation of the INS Arihant crew, Modi said, “The success of INS Arihant gives a fitting response to those who indulge in nuclear blackmail.” He was presumably referring to Pakistan’s continuing proxy terrorism in Kashmir, even as it warded off India’s conventional threat by projecting early use in a low-threshold mode of its tactical nuclear weapons (TNW).
To Modi, India’s triad defuses any credibility of the Pakistani nuclear first use threat.
The logic goes somewhat like this: Pakistani terror provocation elicits an Indian conventional attack of the ‘cold start’ kind, at a higher order than ‘surgical strikes’. Should Pakistan resort to nuclear first use, it would be met with ‘massive’ punitive nuclear retaliation from India as promised in India’s official nuclear doctrine dating back to 2003.
Such Indian nuclear retaliation has been called ‘incredible‘, since Pakistan has the wherewithal to strike back hard. Modi seems to suggest that the nuclear triad enables India to ride out Pakistan’s counter. With this logic, the ability to deliver the last salvo deters Pakistani counter retaliation, thereby enhancing the credibility of India’s doctrinal position of ‘massive’ punitive retaliation.
In turn, this emboldens India to use its conventional advantage, so far seemingly checkmated by Pakistani TNW. Since it makes India’s conventional edge more usable, Pakistan can be coerced by nuclear-backed conventional muscle flexing to end proxy adventurism in Kashmir.
Lest this logic carry the day, attendant dangers need highlighting.
In the middle term, till India has an invulnerable nuclear deterrent in place, it needs reminding that it remains short of ‘survivable nuclear deterrent’ as claimed. Pakistan had, while testing its ballistic missile Shaheen III, advisedly advertised its reach as 2,750 km, rationalising that the range was prompted by the necessity to take out India’s second strike capability – long range ballistic missiles and boomers – even if based in the far away Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
On the acquisition of the invulnerable deterrent down the road, and with a militaristic right-wing government continuing into the next decade, India can exercise conventional blackmail to bail itself out of the cul-de-sac in Kashmir brought on by the unnecessary hardline there.
With surgical strikes already under its belt and the ongoing up-gunning of its integrated battle groups to a two-star command, Indian confidence in deflating Pakistani reliance on its TNW may overshadow its hitherto strategic restraint and natural caution that nuclear weapons engender.
An escalatory impulse is extant, evident in writings of former commanders of India’s strategic forces. Writing in the August issue of Synergy, a joint military publication, a recently retired general says, “It must be clearly understood that if forced to launch conventional operations, plans will not be governed by Pakistanis nuclear weapons, be it tactical or strategic.”
A predecessor similarly wrote, “Any adversary who does not believe, or casts aspersions on, India’s resolve on massive retaliation by initiating a nuclear strike against India, does so at its own peril, and seeks self-destruction.”
Yet another three-star commander has it that, “Pakistan has developed adequate nuclear weapons to inflict a reasonable amount of damage on India, but the counter capability with India is sufficient to cause damage on an unprecedented scale… .”
A former boss of the Strategic Forces Command, Shivshankar Menon, agrees, “Pakistani tactical nuclear weapon use would effectively free India to undertake a comprehensive first strike against Pakistan.’
Deterrence reassurance does not necessarily translate into security. When a former army commander warns that India’s war planning almost completely ignoresthe nuclear overhang, overplaying the triad is prelude to a deterrence delusion. The assumption engendered by a triad – that India shall get in the last nuclear blow – generates overconfidence, making India liable to take nuclear risks.
Further, what nuclear theology misses is the effect of cultural nationalism on strategic thinking and of authoritarianism on nuclear decision-making.
While Shivshankar Menon – no hawk himself – once mused on a possible nuclear first use on India’s part, writing that “Pakistani tactical nuclear weapon use would effectively free India to undertake a comprehensive first strike against Pakistan,” Menon’s successor as national security adviser, Ajit Doval, a hardliner on Pakistan, can be expected to take cue.
Doval’s boss, Narendra Modi, who was most criticalof India’s restraint after Mumbai 26/11, may find himself walking into a commitment trap of his own making. Shivshankar Menon rightly warns that “if India is forced to make a similar choice in the future, I am sure it will respond differently.”
On the tenth anniversary of 26/11, India does not appear any safer. This makes for plausibility of wargame scenarios that have South Asia as locale. A triad does little to make such scenario-building less plausible.
Why the events in J&K are not good for democracy in the state
Four years into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre, it is clear that its actions need to be examined in relation to its election agenda. With general elections coming up in a few months’ time, all its actions are geared to ensuring that the BJP comes back to power at the Centre. The dissolving of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) assembly on November 21 must be viewed against this backdrop. It would be naïve to continue expecting the ruling party to place national interest above party interest.
The ruling party’s non-performance on development appears to have left it with little but polarisation to fall back on to woo the electorate and keep its voter base together.
Muslim-bashing by itself has had diminishing returns since the last elections — the elections that had succeeded in pushing the Muslims decisively on to the ropes. The Ram mandir issue is close at hand, to be trotted out some time early in the coming year, once the Supreme Court currently engaging with it has ruled on it.
In the interim, J&K serves to keep polarisation ticking. The challenge to the special status of the state, specifically Article 35A is at the Supreme Court. The BJP wishes to capitalise on the special status issue with an eye on its polarising possibilities.
Another indicator of polarisation informing the calculus is the manner Ram Madhav, national general secretary of the BJP overseeing its strategy for J&K, alleged that theincipient alliance between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference was instigated by Pakistan. He has since withdrawnthe comment.
However, the mention of Pakistan was to legitimise the miscarriage of democracy in the dissolution of the assembly just when the two major parties in the state joined hands to steer it back to democracy.
The governor had earlier indicated that the assembly would continue in a suspended state over the transition from governor’s rule to President’s rule. As it turned out, this was to buy time for the BJP-backed challenger Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference (PC), with two members in the assembly, to stake claim, with support from the BJP and after poaching dissidents off the PDP.
In the event, the PDP-NC attempt at forming a coalition government supported by the Congress, under PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti, pre-empted Lone. Though Lone was pipped at the post by the PDP-NC, the governor chose to dissolve the assembly.
The dissolution provides the BJP an opportunity to return to power through the coalition route after fresh elections, to progress its wider game plan of diluting Article 35A and Article 370. Preventing this had been the impulse behind the getting together of arch foes, the NC and the PDP.
The events of November 21 have given the impression that the governor has acted on behalf of the ruling party at the Centre. History shows that such interventions have dire consequences. Three decades back, Governor Jagmohan was appointed by Indira Gandhi with a mandate to remove the NC’s Farooq Abdullah, who was then hobnobbing with the national opposition parties.
The fallout of Jagmohan’s interference in state politics is rather well known. It eventually led to the rigged elections of 1987 and, as they say, the rest is history with the official count of conflict dead nearing 50,000.
This precedence suggests the national security relevance of the governor’s decision. It required consultation with the national security apparatus headed by Ajit Doval. There is also a minister of state-ranking special representative, Dineshwar Sharma, for engaging with interlocutors of all shades and opinion in J&K. That both did not sound the alarm on the national security implications suggests either they were not consulted or were likeminded. This gives the impression that the national security apparatus, which played along with this decision, has been partisan.
The dissolution of the J&K assembly can only firm up a negative view held by many in Kashmir on India’s democratic bona fides when it comes to the Kashmir question and its militarised handling of the troubles in Kashmir. The perception can be expected to feed the ongoing alienation and exacerbate violence.
This puts paid to one of the governor's four reasons for the dissolution, of enabling anti-militancy operations in a stable and supportive environment, presumably better under President's rule than a democratic one.
The advantage here for the ruling party is that it allows an unmitigated militarised template to persist. The turmoil can be projected as Pakistan-fuelled Muslim angst, posing a threat to national security.
This gives the BJP an opportunity to project itself to the electorate as the only party that can deal with the situation, with a strong man prime minister at its helm.