Thursday, 30 June 2022

Competitive terrorism in getting to Hindu Rashtra?

Late evening Tuesday was rather tense. News broke of the killing in Udaipur of Kanhaiyalal Teli by two perpetrators, one who did the horrific deed and the other who filmed it. The clip was then uploaded by the two onto social media, following an earlier one by the killer in which he promised punishing those indulging in blasphemy. Their ire was prompted by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson going ballistic on prime time with invective against Prophet Mohammad at the sensitive time of the Gyanvapi mosque controversy late last month. Apparently, Kanhaiyalal had expressed his support of the spokesperson on social media, marking him out as a target for the two. In the event, the two were caught while escaping and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is seized of the case. Rightly, the Rajasthan government has deemed the incident as one of terror, since not only was the atrocity revolting in itself, but was also broadcast with intent to instill fear in the wider public and overawe the government.

Arguably - and Muslims would likely vouch for this - the feeling of terror that evening was incident not so much amongst Hindus – the wider target of the two terrorists – but amongst Muslims. Muslim fears that evening were on what backlash the deed could provoke against them by majoritarian extremists. This has as backdrop their eight years-long odyssey in Narendra Modi’s New India, in which they have been consistently pushed against the wall with some or other vile scheme pulled out of the hat (recall Sudhir Chaudhary’s litany of ‘jihads’) by majoritarian minders and implemented across India by their foot-soldiers. The latest in this incessant bludgeoning of Muslims have been calls for genocide in so-called dharm sansads, congregations of saffron-clad unholy worthies. These were revealed by a news portal, Alt News. It is no wonder then that Zubair – cofounder of Alt News – is now behind bars under trumped up charges of offending religious sentiments of the majority.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have remained silent all along on the micro-terror India’s Muslims have been subject to, there is fear in Muslims that majoritarian extremists enjoy impunity. Their apprehensions were heightened in wake of the crime in Udaipur. After all, only this week, the Supreme Court seemingly let off Modi for his dereliction of duty during the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. It instead ruled that the human rights defenders - who pursued the Zakia Jafri case exposing the crimes of omission and commission of the Gujarat government then run by Modi - were liable for perpetrating the impression that Modi had been permissive of - if not himself instigated - the crimes that resulted in over a 1000 Muslim deaths. Modi’s unforgettable evoking of Newton to paper over the pogrom as reaction to the deaths of Hindus in a train bogey allegedly set afire by Muslims while returning from a purportedly religious ceremony in Ayodhya, has kept Muslims on the edge.

The prevailing tension is over when it might be politically expedient for majoritarians to replay such pogroms. Minority pockets remain woefully vulnerable, as Hindu mobs unmistakably reminded in the last Ramnavmi when processions turned violent in Muslim localities. The one-sided violence in North East Delhi before the Covid outbreak another bid to intimidate Muslims then out on the streets anticipating their eventual disenfranchisement on the passage of the disarmingly innocuous Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The violence played out in the national capital in full sight of a departing State guest, then president of the world’s only hyper-power, the United States (US), Donald Trump. India, in its turn to a rentier state, by way of which it trades its geographical location at the periphery of China, to its geopolitical advantage, has neutered liberal opinion abroad that could have held it accountable for safeguarding the rights of its citizens. Perfunctory noises are fobbed off by the as-articulate-as- immaculate, Dr. S Jaishankar, a newly discovered ideologue of the BJP. Even as Modi was signing up as an invitee to the G7 meeting on their joint statement on resilience of democracy, his regime back home went about arresting Teesta Setalvad, redoubtable police officer, RB Sreekumar (police officer Sanjiv Bhatt already behind bars), and Mohammed Zubair. At the summit itself, US President Biden singled out Modi for attention, a visual much exchanged on social media. On his way back, Modi stopped over at the United Arab Emirates, underlining a fact well-known to India’s Muslims that opprobrium of the BJP spokesperson’s comments abroad restricted itself to her egregious assault on the Prophet, rather than extend to India’s treatment of its minority, the latter taken as an internal matter and in itself inconsequential to authoritarian governments.

Reinforced in the belief of impunity from international accountability for its assault on the world’s largest minority anywhere, the Modi government can only be expected to get bolder in the loose rope it offers majoritarian minions. The times are bleak economically. The unemployment situation was brought home rudely when skeptical youth took to train burning with the rollout of Modi’s ‘transformational’ recruiting initiative into the Indian military, Agnipath. While Muslim-bashing is no longer a political necessity for consolidating the Hindu vote – Muslims being electorally marginalized – they are needed for scapegoating as the Other. Even in its last breath, the Maharashtra government that went down this week to a rebel revolt brought on by competitive Hindutva, took to renaming two significant Muslim strongholds without consultation with inhabitants.

In any case, there is some distance to tread to get to the professed destination of Hindutva, the guiding ideology of the regime: Hindu Rashtra. Covid - and the complicating Chinese intrusion in Ladakh - displaced the timeline somewhat, but have not upturned the aim. Hindu Rashtra necessarily implies that in the run up, Muslims are sufficiently cowed as to not pose an impediment. This explains the assiduous implementation of the anti-minority agenda of the regime, that its flagship slogan, ‘sabka saath-sabka vikas-sabka vishwas’, cannot obscure. Though faced with relentless provocation all through the Modi tenure so far, Muslims have demonstrated forbearance, taking recourse at best to peacefully upholding the Constitution during their anti-CAA protests. Even their counterparts in Kashmir have held their peace, though their state was summarily dismantled and their privacy invaded by a trooper at every step and corner in anticipatory – and continuing - deployment against an explosion of their wrath. Patience has not yielded up any dividend as such for Muslims, since the State hurtles to a Hindu Rashtra.

Modi has overseen the dismantling of India’s democratic pillars, evidenced most recently by the judiciary with judges taking to withholding their signatures from controversial judgments such on Ayodhya and the Zakia Jafri case. Absent internal accountability, institutions have been disemboweled, beginning with the party, the BJP, itself that won majority in parliament twice-over, not on the basis of good-old conservatism, but riding on the coattails of Modi, himself spin-doctored into power. The ongoing six-month long search for a pliable Chief of Defence Staff to wreck the last institution standing, India’s military, is indicative. The opposition’s showing in its candidate selection for the next president of the Republic shows that it does not quite exist at the national level. The taking down this day of a coalition in India’s most economically vibrant state, Maharashtra, through blatantly underhand means – now virtually patented by the BJP through its use of money power – is example. Since the route towards Hindu Rashtra is now open, it’s no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. Narendra Modi having hinted at going for another term, the timeline to get past the post is by his next tenure. A prospective date that offers itself is the centenary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the mother-ship of the extremist right wing in power. Modi could use the 2024 election result as a referendum on his showing and intent to turn India into Hindu Rashtra. The inauguration - in the run up to elections - of the freshly-minted Ayodhya temple - where the journey to Hindu Rashtra symbolically began in the taking down of the Babri mosque - shall help clinch the elections. A minority that is already reduced to cipher, subject to a an ongoing cultural genocide and plausibly threatened with genocide, is apprehensive not only of the path yet to be traversed but what might befall it when Modi gets India – by then renamed Bharat - there.

Does the Udaipur terror incident herald a shift in the Muslim approach to India’s majoritarian trajectory? Cultural nationalism-inspired security analysts – who no longer need to inhabit a closet - will have it that copycat terrorism is on its way. Muslim would-be jihadis may take to terror, if only for its nuisance value, knowing well that the right wing grip over national security will only lead to terror proving counter-productive. The NIA investigation will doubtless prove an external link to the Udaipur terror incident, enabling another stick to beat the minority as a fifth column and keep its external sponsor, Pakistan, on the defensive since it recently wiggled out of the clutches of the anti-terror Financial Action Task Force – clutches that India had expended much foreign policy capital on. The period 2005-14 was averred to by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in his recent interview to stanch the Agnipath agitation as a period of minority-perpetrated terror. Analysts will point to a return to such a period in case a clamp-down on Muslims is not imposed through further surveillance of and restrictions in their ghettos. Such recommendations will serve the purposes of the regime: invisibilisation of Muslims easing rollout of Hindu Rashtra.

The very usefulness of the terror act for Hindutva purposes raises questions on its provenance. Hindutva’s ascent has been propelled in part by the stigmatizing of the minority as terror perpetrators, as Doval reminds of in the mentioned interview. Though the Sanatan Sanstha perpetrated terror has been investigated somewhat, that undertaken by Abhinav Bharat remains under wraps. It is inexplicable that the so-called Muslim perpetrated terror vanished with Modi’s coming to power in 2014. It cannot be that his appointing of intelligence czar, Doval, amounted to a sweep of the wand, and - ‘hey presto’ – there is no subsequent terror (other than at Pulwama). This calls into question provenance of terror through 2005-14. Were these black operations, designed to bring Hindutva-icon Narendra Modi to power by sabotaging the then government for being soft on terror? The digression here is to show how taking terror at face value is fraught by the obscuring of the possibility of it instead being black operations as was majorly in the case in that period. India’s deep state is no longer a state secret, a book having been written to out it. It has surely not lost its touch. This implies that the Udaipur terror act cannot be taken at face value, but the possibility of it being yet another black operation is well nigh plausible. 

As Doval points out, there has been no case of terror in mainland India lately. Indian Muslims have had learnt to lump, if not live with, Hindutva. A right winger going ballistic is not out of place at prime time or in social media anymore. So much so, there was no instant backlash by Indian Muslims, barring a protest in Kanpur. Only when Muslim states weighed in on the controversy did Muslims take to the street peaceably. Even this was not taken kindly to as evident from its characteristic, Israel-like use of dozers to bring down houses of agitators in Prayagraj and killings in Ranchi. Even in the Udaipur case, the police was able to patch up differences between Kanhaiyalal and his neighbours over his misplaced support of the BJP spokesperson. This shows that a terror act of the Udaipur magnitude was out of place with the trends.

The act itself appears to be rather well planned, including as it did the magnification of the act through social media – fitting classically into the definition of terror. The brandishing of the terror weapons – associated with the prominent Muslim trade butchery – is almost stereotypical, intended to draw parallels with the Islamic State. The reference to Modi as a prospective target is another give away, since the supposedly terror incidents in Gujarat in the period he was chief minister allegedly had him as target. Even the Bhima Koregaon case was built on the falsely-inserted emails in laptops of the incarcerated, then used against them as evidence in the far-fetched allegation that they were out to get Modi. The luxury with which the two terrorists uploaded their boastful clip and the ease of their apprehension cannot be overlooked as pointer of a staged act. The act itself was entirely against Muslim interests and stands universally condemned by them. There is nary a precedence of such action in India, but for a lone case in Kerala. Indian Muslims are firmly against Talibanisation and it is widely appreciated that international jihad has had no sway in Indian Muslims, the second largest Muslim population in any country in the world. Consequently, it would be unwise to go along uncritically with the default view that terror acts resuming, Indian Muslims be put in the dock.

Conspiracy theories are taken as infra dig. The Supreme Court had it that the Gujarat pogrom was an act of omission rather than one of commission. On the contrary the conspiracy theory it rejected has it that Modi had intervened to allow communal Hindus to vent their angst on the Godhra incident. The Court’s going overboard in suggesting that subscribing to the view that Modi orchestrated the pogrom is a conspiracy in itself, shows that conspiracy theories aren't quite passé. Conspiracy theories attend significant terror acts as the one on Parliament in December 2001. Even the inexplicable killing of the policeman trio gunning for Abhinav Bharat - so very conveniently for the right wing - in Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks - show that the deep state must not be allowed to get away too easily with black operations passing as terrorism. The regime is now poised to using the Udaipur terror incident to its purposes. That the NIA is on the job should ring bells, given what Rohini Salian had to say of its workings.

That said - till otherwise proven - going with the mainstream view on the terror act necessitates countering - in anticipation - recommendations likely to emerge from the strategic community on greater strictures. To the extent that the threat of terror exists, it bears adding to the discussion a point that is bound to be missed in the mainstream strategic discourse – such terror is reactive. Ending right wing provocations, such as by ending micro-terror in the form of lynching and its social media propagation, is a necessary pre-requisite. Not to expect Muslim extremists to get on the high horse to protect their community – when democratic institutions have failed them – is to misunderstand human nature. To expect root causes to be addressed when political culture is Hindutva-driven is to be wishful. Since the journey to Hindu Rashtra is inexorable in light of the weakness of counter weights, there is no reason for Muslims to be the fall guys derailing the enterprise. Adapting to the new political circumstance is best with the hope that the Ramrajya promised is predicated on equality of opportunity, justice and rule of law. The problem is that the means to getting there being as they are, it is unlikely that Ramrajya will be as the concept has it. Even so, competitive terror can be ruled out, though one-sided micro-terror will remain incident. Critical national security analysis – attempted here - must continue to attend developments on the road to Hindu Rashtra.

Saturday, 25 June 2022

Conflict Prevention-Peacemaking-Preventive Deployment: A triangle whose time has come?

As the Ukraine War enters into its fifth month, it continues to show that the Charter-based international order requires bolstering. An idea whose time has come is in giving the peace agenda of the United Nations some teeth. One area that could do with strengthening is the triangular relationship between the three agenda concepts: conflict prevention, peacemaking and preventive deployment.

The phrases ‘a stitch in time’ and ‘prevention is better than cure’ are truisms. Rightly, conflict prevention has for long been a priority area for the UN. Conflict prevention through peaceful means - as against the leveraging force such as through deterrence, alliance building and posturing - is sought as the forte of the UN. Conflict prevention is enabled by peacemaking efforts as facilitation of negotiations and mediation and other peaceful means as arbitration and adjudication. Conflict prevention can be taken as peacemaking prior to the onset of violent conflict. In its wider interpretation it also includes preventing horizontal and vertical escalation. The advantage of an early bid for peace is that the cultural violence that attends direct violence has not congealed at that stage, making structural violence more amenable - through peacemaking - to mitigation. Even so, peaceful means – that disavow use of force – can be enhanced by the leveraging of force through preventive deployment. Preventive deployment can potentially stanch the impetus to violence, buying for conflict prevention-peacemaking the time and political space for effectiveness. This conceptual prelude shows the interlinked, triangular relationship between the three concepts: conflict prevention-peacemaking-preventive deployment.

The unfolding of the Ukraine War provides a setting to ideate on this triangle. The War’s outbreak was publicly predicted by the intelligence community of the West almost to the day, with informed speculation having it that the War’s D-Day was delayed by Winter Games held early this year in China. There was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy about the forecast. The international community remained stupefied in the run up to the War. No doubt weighty factors dissuaded conflict prevention, such as one of the potential belligerents being a Permanent Five member with the clout to halt any effort perceived to be against its interests. But, great power politics also played a part since certain other members of the Permanent Five may not have been averse to a War. Be that as it may, the UN was not quite to the fore in the run up to the War, with some critical commentary noting that it stood marginalized.

Using the triangle model, can it be counter-factually inferred that had the UN had a preventive deployment capability at hand, it could have been more forthcoming with peacemaking action for conflict prevention? Such a hypothetical scenario may have witnessed preventive deployment under UN aegis, perhaps partnered by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that had a Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) already in place in the sensitive zone. Such a preventive deployment, using troops from major power contributors as China and India that were acceptable for both sides – Ukraine and Russia – could have allowed conflict prevention to acquire teeth. It would have provided Russia with a reason to hold-out from attack, giving it scope for advancing its originally stated interest in implementation of the preexisting Minsk agreement framework. Ukraine, for its part, in according consent for the preventive deployment would have asserted its sovereignty and avoided the price it has paid in terms of suffering and possible loss of territory. Conflict prevented, momentum to peacemaking could have seen the two sides work out differences outstanding since 2014.

A second juncture offering an intercession opportunity in the Ukraine War was when Russia, having met a reverse in the initial phase of the War, redeployed out of the Kiev war zone to concentrate on the Donbas region. Yet again preventive deployment capability on hand for the UN may have been useful to insert into the conflict zone along the front lines, with both states onboard, so as to prevent the subsequent phase from playing out. Conflict prevention does not end with conflict outbreak but is also concerned with its persistence and escalation. While peacemaking is to contain conflict after outbreak, the Ukraine War continuing shows that it did not have heft, though there were peacemaking efforts by Turkey and France playing out. The discernible operational pause when Russia shifted gears provided a window of opportunity wherein a preventive deployment of forces from countries acceptable by both sides may have been possible. This presupposes availability of such professional forces at short notice and the capability to move these into the conflict zone timely. India is a candidate country with such a capability, both China and Western countries being ruled out at this stage of the conflict for partisanship respectively with the two sides.

Another counter-factual illustration is in order. Had a preventive deployment force been available for deployment to Benghazi in the stand-off between Gaddafi’s troops and rebels there in early 2012, the hands of the partner multilateral organizations involved in managing that Responsibility to Protect (R2P) crisis may have stood strengthened. With the preventive deployment, with consent of Gaddafi, the apprehended R2P threat would have been defused, making preventive deployment a preferred option couched in conflict prevention. It would have precluded the scuttling of R2P concept at inception and the violence that has plagued the country and the region ever since. Conflict prevention diplomacy that was undertaken by the regional organizations – the Arab League, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the African Union – would have gained time and efficacy thereby. Since the West would unlikely have received consent for deployment by Libya, other cogent forces – such as from India and China - could have been requisitioned for the limited purpose of a quick insertion, stabilization and retraction on abatement of the crisis.  

Another counter-factual example to drive home the point that conflict prevention merely by the peacemaking route it seldom enough is the case of Afghanistan. It was patently obvious all along as the United States’ and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) prepared to depart the country that turmoil would follow. There was almost a two-year long peace process that could have been suitably taken advantage of to substitute the departing NATO with a potent UN peacekeeping force. The UN also appointed a former Secretary General’s Special Representative with its political mission in Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, for the talks’ process in Doha. However, the UN’s profile was debilitated by not having options to offer. Assuming it had a preventive deployment force from countries acceptable to Taliban – China and Turkey come to mind – the force could have deployed in anticipation of the departure of the Western forces. It could have partnered with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on this. Recall at the time the fear was a bloodbath in areas taken over by the Taliban as the NATO pulled out, especially in Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani cited this possibility in explaining his hasty departure, saying that he did not want to precipitate matters by staying on. A preventive deployment force, that also controlled the airport, and some prominent provincial capitals, may have proved useful in strengthening the mediation’s hand in the peace process. Conflict prevention purposes would have been served in that the UN presence in Afghanistan would have been enhanced by a preventive deployment, toning down the Taliban’s excesses - now visible - while enabling peacemaking between it and the former government, retaining the peacebuilding gains from the preceding period.  

Counter-factuals are useful but not in themselves persuasive. Examples are however available from peacekeeping successes to help with visualization of the triangle and the need to upgrade conflict prevention-peacemaking with preventive deployment. Whereas preventive deployment had a salutary rollout in the UN’s Preventive Deployment Force (PREDEP) in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia of Macedonia, a less visible preventive deployment has been the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) between Sudan and South Sudan. This is arguably a successful case of preventive deployment as part of conflict prevention. UNISFA was intended to provide the stability on ground for peacemaking initiatives to play out. The outstanding issues from the secession of South Sudan were yet to be settled and the UN was supportive of the African Union on this score. UNISFA prevented the spill-over of the Sudan-South Sudan border war of 2012 into Abyei. The border has since been monitored by the UNISFA’s mechanism in support of the Joint Monitoring and Verification Mechanism of both sides. Peacemaking has however been in abeyance since the two sides have separately suffered civil conflict that has distracted them from settling their border issues. But the conflict prevention role of UNISFA has been in ensuring that the border issues do not aggravate their relationship, allowing both to be supportive of each other in resolving respective internal problems that otherwise provide scope for proxy war by the other side.

Realist discourse has it that diplomacy for effectiveness needs being buttressed with force, kept behind the curtains. While the UN’s peace agenda does privilege arriving at peace through peaceful means, preventive deployment already exists as a proven tool in the peace repertoire. Preventive deployment does not imply use of force, but follows peacekeeping principles. Such troops can serve as ‘embarrassing witnesses’, deterring violence. Containing violence can keep peacemaking underway from being more vexed than what it is. The role of conflict prevention - of keeping conflict confined even after outbreak of violence – is enabled. Other benefits from such deployment are self-evident: helping monitor a developing situation and protection of monitors and humanitarian actors. There may be a call on the force for facilitating humanitarian relief and assisting refugee flows. It provides stability on ground, lest instability infiltrate bottom-up into peacemaking conference rooms. It helps restrain spoilers and, where necessary, rein them in. It ensures an investment by the international community in the crisis, focusing minds on its resolution. It helps address the entire lifecycle of the crisis, visualized as a curve: when on the upswing, when it climaxes and - transforming into conventional peacekeeping – helping usher in and sustain the downward curve with peacemaking providing for an initial ceasefire followed by a final settlement.

Materializing the three peace agenda concepts as a triangle as against in respective silos requires corresponding capabilities. Preventive deployment is peacekeeping-on-the-quick, anticipatory peacekeeping with an admixture of robust peacekeeping. Quick reaction insertion into crisis zones, and where unavoidable into conflict zones, is necessary. Peacekeeping on the other hand is predicated on a modicum of peace to keep, brought about by a negotiated agreement minimally on a ceasefire and the role of peacekeepers on its sustainment. Preventive deployment as envisaged here is for creating the conditions on ground for arriving at such a negotiated agreement. Whereas earlier conflict prevention-peacemaking was without teeth, with an admixture of preventive deployment propagated here, a negotiated agreement to contain conflict is made possible. This means that preventive deployment would require insertion in a fluid situation, with outbreak of violence potent possibility irrespective of such insertion. The preventive deployment however increases the efficacy of prevention, in first place, and the limiting of violence subsequently. The force would require configuring as befits a violence-deterring mission in a visibly heavier than peacekeeping mode. This restricts the scope of contribution to such forces to very few countries, with professional militaries held at a higher degree of readiness. They must have self-protection wherewithal intrinsic, including military intelligence assets. The timelines of readiness will be subject to attenuation as the crisis heightens. Command and control arrangements would have to be with the UN and the UN a partner – if not lead – in the conflict prevention peacemaking that the deployment is facilitative of.

The triangle envisaged favourably depicts the relationship between the three peace agenda concepts: conflict prevention, peacemaking and preventive deployment. Conflict prevention and peacemaking are the pre-existing twinned lines of operation.  A triangle emerges when preventive deployment is added as a third side. Preventive deployment in such a case differs from peacekeeping in that it is more visibly configured for conflict zones with impending or ongoing violence. It may eventuate in a peacekeeping operation when and if peacemaking it buttresses succeeds. This might involve substitution of troops involved that have a higher potency than necessary for a conventional peacekeeping operation. Such troops need not necessarily exit the theatre but may continue to be linked with the peacemaking in subsequent-to-conflict-outbreak phases: containing conflict (ceasefire) and terminating it (comprehensive settlement). They can in such an avatar take on an enforcement role, normally shunned by peacekeeping troop contributors.

This is not a new idea, dating as the discussion above does to the mid-nineties when standby readiness troop contribution and enforcement capability under the UN found mention. However, the rudimentary command and control capabilities of the UN back then stymied the discussion. The UN has come a long way since, beginning with the Brahimi report recommendation implementation and several iterations of reform till, recently, implementation of the Cruz report. The levels of professionalization of control and use of force in the UN peace agenda now enables revisiting the ideas and, going further, implementing them. The triangle model advanced here is a conceptual first step.



Thursday, 23 June 2022

Coup proofing: Foregrounding the motivation behind Agnipath

This article is not about Agnipath. The issue has been flogged adequately in the media and has attracted sufficient commentary, both enlightened and apologist. At this juncture, while an opposition politician predicts withdrawal of the policy, as was the case with the farmer laws, the policy itself appears to be firming in with criticism tempered by recommendations on how to improve it taken onboard. A relieved military has given the policy a cloak of a work-in-progress pilot project. To its credit, the brass has watered down of the policy, leaving room enough to modify/retract it along the line. The usual botched rollout of policy – by now typical of the Narendra Modi regime – has distracted from the more dubious features of the policy: its dismantling of the Indian Army as-we-know-it.

The wide-ranging interview of National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval - the heavy artillery deployed by the regime as palliative to the protests by aspirant Agniveers - carries a clue on the motive of the regime behind the scheme. In his spirited showing in the non-obsequious interview, Doval makes a comparison between the Indian Army and the Indian National Army (INA), to the detriment of the former. To him, the INA stole a march on the Indian Army by being inspired by nationalism, whereas the Indian Army was a creation of the British as part of their policy of ‘divide and rule’.

To him, the regimental system was introduced by them - bedrock of the infantry that is the major component of the Army - to array India’s ethnic groups against each other, facilitating over-lordship of the British. The Indian Army that retained its institutional integrity on the transfer of power, therefore, has an overhaul long overdue. The Agnipath scheme’s shift to an All India All Class (AIAC) composition draws on the strengths of the Indian National Army (INA), based as it was on an ethnically amalgamated regimental model (Doval recounts the regiments, namely, Rani Jhansi and (sic) Mahatma Gandhi), shows that the shift would not impact combat effectiveness. To him, nationalism will substitute for ethnic affinities that hitherto provided battle-winning cohesion.

This bit of persuasion by Doval to allay fears over dilution in combat effectiveness of the Agnipath- inoculated Army need not detain us. Let’s leave it to military historians whether the casualties suffered by the INA owed to their warrior spirit, as attributed by Doval, or neglect by the Japanese. Instead, of consequence in his favourable reference to the INA while putting down the Army is the regime’s effort to discredit the continuity that makes for the institutional integrity of the Army in order that the Army is recreated along lines preferred by the regime.

It’s no secret that Hindutva informs the regime’s worldview. Hindutva ordains a Hindu Rashtra. There is already a New India in place awaiting conversion to Hindu Rashtra at some point in the middle term. The conditions for this conversion are already in place. Constitutional pillars and institutions have been so hollowed out that when the Constitution is given a final nudge towards Hindu Rashtra, there would be none still standing up for it.

The Parliament is an empty shell. The parliamentarians of the ruling party owe their membership of the house to the Modi wave, if not tsunami. The province-specific opposition is too narrowly-focused to count, while the opposition party with a national spread is internally beset. The Judiciary has been kneaded into plasticine, the Gogoi tenure testifying as much. To a chief justice prospect, its recent cognizance of the dozer raj amounts to acting on ‘priority’. The Executive has long had a deep state spirited away by the right wing into its innards. Doval’s reference in his interview to a spate of terror after and self-congratulations that this has not recurred since 2014 is yet another attempt at hiding provenance of the terror India was subject to then. Whereas the Sanatan Sanstha has been fore-grounded partially as perpetrators, it is only to obscure the others, at least one of which sits saffron-clad in parliament. The remainder of the executive has – to borrow an imperishable phrase in the context of Indian organizational culture - crawled when merely asked to bend. If the military, represented by General Rawat and his clique are to go by, how the civilian bureaucracy and police have been suborned can only be imagined. The few but notable exceptions proving the rule, the fourth estate – the Media – is rightly regarded as a disgrace.

Though the Army has been subject to conditioning since Rawat’s elevation to its helm over the heads of two of his seniors - who retrospectively can also easily be seen as being superior professionals than him - it has thus far not been entirely crippled as other institutions. It has managed to remain partially unscathed since the regime had utility for a modicum of its professionalism while it was settling in. The redoubtable Pakistan Army had to be overawed, which - to the regime - the two surgical strikes succeeded in doing. The untimely intrusions by the Chinese twice-over – at Doklam and Ladakh - also lent pause. Given its innate strengths and relative isolation, the military (here ‘military’ and ‘army’ are used interchangeably) also requires a longer duration to unsettle.

However, it cannot be indefinitely spared, since the Hindu Rashtra has to be rolled out in a finite timeline, dependent as it is crucially on longevity of the Modi spell over the electorate. Consequently, the Army has to be taken down prior to the final nails in the coffin of Old India, lest it - taking its unwritten constitutional obligations seriously - grandstand against New India going the Hindu Rashtra way.

The possibility of the Army ending up a road bump on the road to Hindu Rashtra is counter-intuitive. Its historically apolitical character, the progressive dilution of its professional ethic in the regime years, the magnitude of the Hindutva-inspired regime and the power gap between it and the opposition suggest that enforced subordination of the Army – grinding its nose into the dust as it were - is inessential to the Hindutva project. Even so, the endeavour of getting to Hindu Rashtra is too important to leave any stone unturned, lest it turn out a bridge too far. Taking 100 years to get to this point, the Hindutva enterprise cannot be allowed to be tripped up at the final hurdle.

As its deep state tentacles have no doubt kept it informed, the threat of the Army standing up against an abrupt change of character of the Constitution that it is sworn to protect - albeit miniscule and remote - cannot be wished away entirely. The eulogies that attended Rawat’s funeral flattered to please. His Padma award cannot paper over skepticism in the Army over his Republic Day award, the only serving chief to be pinned with one. That the Chief of Defence Staff appointment was meant to accommodate him in a higher chair stands confirmed by the post remaining unfilled six months into his untoward departure. The cynicism with which the moving of the goal posts on the CDS appointment eligibility has been received is another pointer that the infatuation with the regime - and its protagonist - is not universal. Consequently, the element of the doubt has to be addressed by Hindutva project minders within the regime and outside it in its support base in the mother-ship, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Also, the transition to New India cannot exclude military ‘reforms’. Notwithstanding the hype, Modi’s showing in the surgical strikes has only limited value for his self-image. In any case, the Chinese have put a pin into the balloon. Moreover, Russia’s Ukraine War has shown up war as capricious and is best avoided. Diwali jamborees are insufficient substitute for an Indira-as-Durga-like image. Allusions to nuclear weapons as diwali crackers are counter-productive. Consequently, the next best thing to embellish a 56” chest is ‘reforms’, the more ‘transformational’ the better. Tweaking the manual of defence procurement does not have a ring to it, besides having been done by Manmohan Singh’s defence minister, the Pope, AK Antony. The image of Modi as ‘The Great Disrupter’ needs a boost in a non-trivial area. Bending the Army to his will is of a different order of magnitude as a political feat than getting the police to heel, though the latter is low-hanging fruit for the likes of once khaki-clad Doval.

Domination of political culture by Hindutva empowers it to move faster and further on this score. An Army can be created in its own image, consonant with the change in society and polity it wishes to usher. Vedic texts, ancient history, social mores and political practices of the Aryans as they populated the Gangetic plains are arbitrarily taken as civilisational wellsprings. The Army, even if modern and professional, needs to be imbued with Hindutva, lest it stand out as a sore thumb. It therefore needs to be unfastened from its current verities and ethos and reset in a new, fresher mould. The reforms therefore serve two purposes: by redefining the Army, remove any threat that it might pose.  

The reforms are timed to keep the Army chasing its tail while Hindutva goes about its sweeping up the debris of the Indian State-as-we-know-it and beautifying what emerges with a Central Vista-like makeover. The response in Ladakh amounting to an LC-isation (Line of Control) of the Line of Actual Control keeps the military busy with professional matters. The situation in Kashmir, kept manageable by the peace on the LC, allows for the right wing political solution to unspool at a leisured pace, with the latest step being delimitation of constituencies for the Union Territory assembly elections due soon. The two operational commitments keep the Army tied down. Alongside is futuristic organizational restructuring in theaterisation, jointness and integrated battle groups. The former could have done with a CDS in place. His absence only proves the idea is to keep the Army bogged in facile reforms, while the wider India reset proceeds apace. This is the backdrop to view Agnipath.

Agnipath is designed to keep the military introspective. Even if the military does entertain thought of taking a stand, it would not have the vertical cohesion to do anything about it. Callow Agniveers don’t count, though they can have a surveillance value in case of infiltration by right wing-aligned recruits, as is apprehended in liberal and leftist circles where the refrain is that the Agnipath scheme is to covertly turn out militarized RSS cadre. The undercutting of regiment system and regimentation ensures there are no cohesive outfits readily at hand to spook New Delhi, as once allegedly deployed by then Chief, General VK Singh, using ethnic networks, in pursuit of his ‘date of birth’ obsession. The manner 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, is guarded with an armed trooper at every 25 yards, and reported construction of accommodation for some 3000 troopers for guarding the new accommodation of the prime minister in the Central Vista, show that unfounded fears exist. Such fears owe not to Mr. Modi’s past as much as what he intends for the history books.

As for the professional officer cadre, it is rent into bhakt and bhakt-skeptics camps. It is unknown if there are any anti-bhakts left. The cadre cannot have the confidence to mount a rear guard action to save the Republic-as-we-know-it. The officer class is involved in incorporating women into its mainstream. It might yet be subject to a similar Tour of Duty exercise, as reportedly was the original conception. Deep selection of its leadership has expanded the catchment to include recent retirees and all three-star equivalent rank holders, putting paid to the premium on command. Rumour has variously backed two brass-hats whose claim to fame was to discredit the precedence of surgical strikes lying in years preceding the Modi era. While one heads the Army think tank, the other is ensconced as military adviser under Doval. It is no coincidence that an Engineer officer heads the Army for the very first time. While welcome in itself, that he does not belong to the combat arms - traditionally the ‘core elite’ - is telling. That no one has resigned in dissent against Agnipath bespeaks of a well-conditioned military, liable to be receptive to the more nationally-damaging initiatives just ahead.

This setting-of-the-stage betrays the real reason behind the ‘reforms’. To beget a younger profile military, to be responsive to the changed character of war, to turn out Agniveers as nationally-oriented citizens etc. are but icing on the cake, a bonus that the extensive information war surrounding the Agnipath rollout more or less lets on. The traditionally-conservative bureaucracy keeping a safe distance is another indicator of a hot-potato of uncertain provenance. Amazingly the 254 meetings over 750 hours over a transformational initiative as this did not include stakeholder consultations that alone could have precluded surprise, protests and criticism. Intriguingly, both Doval and the general leading the chorus, the officiating Department of Military Affairs head, General Puri, have not reconciled how the AIAC entry squares with retention of ethnic regiments. Whereas being one with troops is fine with officers, only a test-bed result could tell if this is fine for soldiery too. To begin with it might stall criticism from Colonel Blimps valuing traditional regiments, but teething troubles will force more than a tooth ache. All this only shows there is more to it than meets the eye.

The regime might have over-stretched. It might take loss in war to halt Hindutva in its tracks. The Kargil War lesson was that cohesive primary groups allowed young, junior leaders to do their thing. Absent integration – vertical and horizontal – as the Agnipath scheme portends, a loss is not an implausible outcome. It may yet have the liberty to wash away its action with a few crocodile tears, as with demonetization, or of placatory rollback, as with the land acquisition and farm laws. Alternatively, if Indians vote out Modi, the scheme of short-term volunteers can be trashed, though retaining its strengths as the shift to AIAC. Such outcomes are hypothetical. The scheme – to reiterate - is to put the military into a spin, while Hindutva runs amok.

To wrap up on a theoretical note, Elizabeth Kier, in her book Imagining War: French and Military Doctrine between the Wars (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), has it that ‘the intervention of civilian policymakers is rarely a carefully calculated response to the external environment. Instead, civilian choices between different military policies often reflect their concerns about the domestic balance of power.’ To her, ‘state actors seek to ensure that the military’s potential strength corresponds to the desired division of power in the state and society.’ This is especially so, ‘in states that have not reached a consensus about the role of armed services in the domestic arena (pp. 3-4).’

The extract is relevant to the Indian circumstance. The place of the military has been rudely shaken by the attempt by Hindutva of politicization of the military. The regime wishes a pliable, rather than merely a subordinate military. A regime out to reset the Constitution would logically deflate military’s power. Therefore, it is not external threat – including the so-called ‘two front’ threat that concerns the regime, as much as fixation with an internal power balance facilitative of move from New India, already wrought, to Hindu Rashtra, in the offing.






Monday, 13 June 2022

Minimalist expectations of the Republic’s institutions

Ambassador Talmiz Ahmed, speaking with Karan Thapar on the diplomatic ‘crisis’ brought  on by the ruling party spokesperson going ballistic on prime-time against Prophet Mohammad, said that the External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar, was an ‘instrument’ of the ruling formation comprising the ruling party and its support base, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He implied that Dr S Jaishankar’s hands were tied, presumably by the government’s Hindutva-agenda driven. Seemingly letting Jaishankar off the hook, Talmiz Ahmed is playing the thorough diplomat he is.

Being decked by the Gulf States, followed by others in the Islamic world, suggests the crossing of the line by the BJP was unintended. The BJP was sanguine that Prime Minister Modi’s charm had worked to turn off any attention from those quarters for the plight of India’s Muslims. While the international reaction has predictably petered out, protests are being suppressed using tactics imported from strategic partner, Israel. This goes to show that alerted to red-lines abroad by the controversy, the saffron camp can continue its anti-Muslim crusade as precursor to Hindu Rashtra.

Under the circumstance of an onrushing future in a Hindu Rashtra, what is the responsibility of heads of institutions? Can the State mid-wife the birth of a Hindu Rashtra, even if it is decreed by the twice-elected ruling party? While apparatchiks as Jaishankar and National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, can be expected to have an ideology-informed reading of their functions, this only increases the premium on official level leadership in institutions.

For purposes here, the State is defined narrowly as an amalgam of instruments of governance answerable to political masters subject to rotating into and out of office by the democratic vote. Though ‘instruments’ in a technical sense, these are ‘institutions’ with a life of their own, outside of Constitutional legalese and bureaucratic Rules of Business. Institutions contribute to policy set by political masters. Their input to policy and decision making is thus informed by norms and precedence.

Given this, they are in a position to – and indeed are expected to - moderate political predilections of the ruling party, albeit democratically elected. In the Constitutional scheme, the ruling party-run executive is responsible to the people by opposition parties in parliament holding it accountable. The balance is further maintained by the courts keeping vigil. There are Constitutionally-mandated and empowered bodies and agencies as part of the system of checks-and-balances. To what extent are State agencies qua institutions part of this system?

State institutions are expected to improve a policy by their considered input and where a policy choice is afoul of Constitutional obligations, theirs’ is an enhanced moral and legal compulsion. Where orders are illegal, they are duty-bound to revert with their reservations. Institutions have the credentials to reflect on the constitutionality and legality of policies and have to exercise this faculty.  The premium on this is inversely proportional to efficacy of checks-and-balances system. ‘Yes, Minister’ is very serious business, as General Milley, the head of the joint chiefs, demonstrated during the fag end of United States’ (US) President Trump’s tenure by ensuring that Trump’s idiosyncrasies did not upend stability.  

The Indian democratic system allows for parties to go about implementing their manifesto-outlined policies when in power. Where a government has the majority, it has greater scope for delivering on campaign promises. However, given that a plurality has not voted it into power, but the first-past-the-post system has bought it majority in parliament, a ruling party does not have a blank cheque on policy. Ruling party ideological preferences have to be moderated by a responsibility for and accountability to those who did not vote for it and its policy plank. A ruling party must understand that its stewardship of government is not only in fulfilling the party’s campaign promises, but the governmental and national agenda. In case it falls short in understanding this, the institutions of State are to remind it, particularly those owing allegiance to the Constitution rather than an itinerant ruling party at the Center. The policy-relevant role of institutional heads is to intercede on behalf of their institutions in fulfillment of an institution’s Constitutional commitment.

Even if a government were to come to power with majority of the votes, in a democratic system it cannot override interests of the rest, leave aside be actively arraigned alongside antagonists of any particular section. If a government fails to aggregate interests of others makes it unrepresentative; therefore majoritarian. The term ‘majoritarian democracy’ is an oxymoron in a polity as diverse as India’s. However, over the past eight years majoritarian and authoritarian are conjoined with democracy. Democracy withered under the onslaught of the ruling party, a political front of the right wing. To resurrect democracy, a roll back of the right wing requires first the rescue of captive State institutions.

State institutions have been overawed by right wing information warfare targeting a domestic audience that over-hypes the image of the prime minister. The decimation of the opposition twice-over makes the narrative credible. There are also shenanigans, such as appointing favourites, downsizing opponents, setting State agencies after political challengers etc. that are par for the course in the rough and tumble of politics. Some benign tactics are age-old, including sending off potential trouble-makers to sinecures outside the country, such as to the Asian Development Bank in one case.

However, these have acquired Mafiosi proportions, such as by inserting ‘evidence’ of anti-national activity into computers by hacking, and using this as evidence against ideological opponents and use of new age hacking means as Pegasus. Besides, there is knowledge of the manner of the rise of the prime minister in provincial politics, which witnessed the setting aside of Raj Dharma. A prominent female fan called this aspect of the persona of the prime minister, ‘viraat roop’. The unexplained deaths of former minister of Gujarat, Haren Pandya, and later of Justice BH Loya, are silent reminder of untold consequences.

Prima facie, to expect institutional heads to show spine in such a circumstance is delusional. This would be possible if the political opposition had some fight left in it. The dominance of political culture by Hindutva hardens the refrain on New India, the difference from the ‘old’ being departure from secularism in favour of a religion-anchored cultural nationalism, artfully propagated as Indic – and therefore authentic - civilisation. In this narrative, all other tributaries that have gone into this civilization only pollute. The reported quest for examining Indian racial purity is indicative. An apologist’s argument on ‘correcting of historical wrongs’ is another. Inclusion in talking points of all and sundry of terms as ‘geo-cultural’, ‘civilisational’ etc. and the recent intellectual brouhaha over the fount of nationhood are to shift the goal posts towards a primordial definition of nation predicated on Hinduism, as against a modern, rational-legal one consonant with the Constitution. The thrust for paradigm dominance is apparent. No institution can stay unscathed.

No institutional head can be sure of carrying the institution against the currents. Consequently, to look for well springs of a push back in these quarters is self-deceiving. However, to expect institutional heads not to further the Hindutva project by deeds of omission and commission is not too much to ask, since the Constitutional order has not quite changed as yet. Once the ruling party gets two-thirds of seats in the upper house of parliament and proceeds to do so, such expectations would lose any content. Till then, a minimalist expectation needs being in place, if only to decelerate the Republic headed downhill and hold incumbents of consequential chairs accountable. They cannot use the argument of force majeure to abdicate responsibility.

This yardstick should serve to guide institutional heads and judge their output. As illustration, the scrapping of Article 370 of any content is an example. While Ajit Doval has kept the Valley quiet – though aided by Covid in some measure – it is fairly self-evident that the problem has only been kicked down the road. Whether Doval should have exercised some moderation using a worsening national security in the long term as argument over the right wing’s eagerness to go about its long-standing position on merger of Kashmir with India is moot. The near-term effect in terms of Chinese intrusion into Ladakh was also not factored in by either Doval or Jaishankar. Persuaded by the logic of correctives to history need being applied, the two went along with the Constitutional caper.

To their credit, as political appointees to head national security institutions they have played their part as apparatchiks. But, can the apex of the official level that serves them be absolved? This level is by now staffed on the basis of like-mindedness. Consequently, there was nary a whisper of dissent. Agile consequence management in both union territories created on dissolution of the state cannot paper over that the jury is still out on the role of both political and official leaderships of national security institutions.

The yardstick of minimalist expectation can be usefully applied to the ongoing controversy. By tidying over the foreign policy fallout (Modi is expected to visit the United Arab Emirates soon to presumably woo it back) and continuing with brazen rule of law violations in suppressing Muslim protest (Israel-emulating house demolitions of Muslim protestors continue in BJP-ruled states), the Modi regime has yet again demonstrated its capacity for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Alerted to the red-lines of the Muslim world, it can now proceed post-haste and unconcerned by external fallout (it has already fobbed-off the US, knowing that the US needs it more in relation to China than it does the US) with continuing the conditioning of the minority to tamely accept its subordination in New India qua Hindu Rashtra.

What does the doctrine of minimal expectations of officials heading institutions call for in a circumstance of transition to Hindu RashtraHindu Rashtra is the putative destination; it isn’t quite here. So, in the first instance, institutional leaders need reminding that they are office holders beholden to the Constitution as it exists, not one in the pipeline. They remain tied by their oath to it, so cannot act as if repeated electoral feats of the right wing imply that a new Constitution is already at hand (such as those taking decisions on dozer activity in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh seem to be doing).

Second, with power equations being what they are and spines being supple a via media of shirking-on-the-job suggests itself. Institutions need to pull their punches in face of orders contrary to the Constitutional straight and narrow: ‘Don’t say ‘No’, but don’t do it either.’ For instance, if the government wishes to underplay the Ladakh intrusion, the military does not need to ease its doing so. That the military understands this is evident from its watering down the Tour of Duty (Agniveer) scheme. However, that was in protection of its own interests. It had better take this approach also in Kashmir, where it has been amiss in being hand-maiden to Doval’s bid to project stability as another feather in his cap as a national security wizard.

Finally, the pushback from institutions will sensitise the right wing that control of the levers of power is not enough to be able to push the country over the brink into Hindu Rashtra. The shift to Hindu Rashtra needs not only to be procedurally correct (unlike the vacating of Article 370 of content), but constitutionally compliant. Since the judiciary has been slovenly in adjudicating on the latter, institutional pushback assumes significance. An institutional ‘go slow’ serves to deter, providing time and space to help generate the political will in the opposition to take up cudgels. A ‘dissent channel’ within institutions and between institutions needs setting up, informally to begin with.

In the national security domain, official heads of institutions – such as military Chiefs – must not kowtow to political appointees. There is a political appointee as military adviser each in the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and the Ministry of Defence. The latter has acquired significance since being military adviser was the job of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), an appointment in abeyance for now. Doval – a political appointee - has usurped ministerial and higher official functions by his stewardship of the Defence Planning Committee and the Strategic Policy Group. This has resulted in the CDS being reduced to military adviser to the defence minister, rather than for the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) as a whole. It is only in his nuclear role is he ‘military adviser’ to the Nuclear Command Authority, whose membership is akin to the CCS. If and since such arrangement would heighten the ideologically-driven content in policies, it is all the more reason for the military leadership to dig-in on its professional turf.

Deep selection-based military chiefs must be made wary of their limits of playing the party line by collegial pressure from within the brass. This preserves the military’s parochial interest, but must expand to include issues in its ken, such as policies in Kashmir and in relation to the North East on Bengali Muslims. In Kashmir, the military must act as a strategic level headquarters, rather than an operational level one. Its inability to discern the distinction has led to the Article 370 debacle. As regards the Bengali Muslims, it does not readily appear on the military’s radar, but the regime-friendly mouthings of the last CDS and the current military adviser in NSCS indicate otherwise. The impending national security mess in relation to the Bengali Muslims being engineered by the Assam chief minster’s messianism needs forestalling by the Eastern Command making its strategic-level presence felt. The national service of such a stance is in alerting the ruling party against venturing down the Hindu Rashtra route without due process and taking the country along.

The doctrine of minimal expectations here is a yardstick that can retrospectively hold institutional heads to account, both political and official. At a political juncture in which genocide and civil war have found uncharacteristic mention in the same breath, the importance of retrieving the State from capture by the right wing has increased. The prospects of shirking as a legitimate tactics come to fore and can help deter, preempt and prevent unconstitutional moves. Institutions may yet preserve the Republic as we know it, even if the four estates – parliament, executive, judiciary and media – have withered.