Is there an Indian 'deep state'?
t stands counter to democratic values, the presence of a deep state in either a matured or a putative form is an existential danger to democracy. Since a prerequisite for democracy is eternal vigilance, a timely and periodic scan of democratic credentials of a country is necessary. Though seemingly counter-intuitive to subject India to such test, it is unfortunately no longer unthinkable to do so.
The concept of 'deep state' sits easy on Pakistan. As it readies to observe the seventieth iteration of Pakistan day on 23 March, the most significant aspect of its history that overhangs its present is that it has been run by the army for over half its independent existence. This legacy accounts for the rumoured 'deep state' in Pakistan that comprises a core military and intelligence elite.
The 'deep state' in Pakistan is credited with the continuity in Pakistan's policies, such as anti-India proxy war or seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan. The deep state is immune to democratic shifts, taking control of government policies on India, nuclear matters and Afghanistan. Its notion of national security has a few well-recognised elements such as Pakistan as a national security (garrison) state; protection and expansion of ideological frontiers of Islam; preservation of corporate interest of the military; and internal (leveraging domestic resources) and external (allies) balancing in a manner as to offset the power asymmetry with India.
That a deep state has its own agenda is clear from the Pakistan case. Take for instance the price Pakistan has paid for its internal balancing measure of relying on jihadi assets for furthering proxy wars in India and Afghanistan. On the surface this appears contrary to Pakistan's national interest of internal security and stability. The deep state appears to believe that this is an affordable price to pay and that it has control over the Frankenstein propensities of such enterprises. The deep state is thus an amorphous entity autonomous of accountability.
The deep state has continuity that kitchen cabinets of democratic regimes do not have. The kitchen cabinet of Indira's days dispersed when non-Congress governments were in power. The deep state is narrower than the Establishment. In the US, the Trump phenomenon points to the disaffection of the Trumpian voter with the Establishment, identified with the political elite in Washington, DC. In Pakistan's case, the incestuous Establishment reputedly includes prominent families of the industrial and feudal elite. The deep state is thus in a more potent category all by itself.
Given that it stands counter to democratic values, the presence of a deep state in either a matured or a putative form is an existential danger to democracy. Since a prerequisite for democracy is eternal vigilance, a timely and periodic scan of democratic credentials of a country is necessary. Though seemingly counter-intuitive to subject India to such test, it is unfortunately no longer unthinkable to do so.
An Indian deep state can easily be dismissed. India is the world's largest democracy and the most long standing one in the developing world. Its record as a procedural democracy is unmatched and relatively unblemished. With the usual platitudes out of the way, this commentary gets down to the business of gauging the extent to which a deep state might exist (if not quite thrive) in India.
Recently, the leading light of the pseudo-cultural formation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, said that his foot-soldiers can mobilize in three days. He was contrasting their alacrity to arms to the army's comparatively slovenly (to him) mobilisation. One reason that Operation Parakram did not go the full distance from coercive diplomacy to conventional war was the long time lag for the army to get into operational gear, particularly its lumbering strike corps. To its credit the army has since cut this time down, as the name Cold Start doctrine suggests. The leading light of the RSS was of course unmindful of the different order of magnitude that mobilizing to lynch unsuspecting skull cap wearers is from mobilization for war. But that detail did not detain the head honcho of the political formation and its group of affiliates. Comparing Hindutva inspired mobs out for mayhem in some neighbouring Muslim inhabited ghetto with the army off to war is like comparing apples to oranges.
Irrespective of this inconvenient observation, the comparison had a purpose. The Sarsangchalak was making the point that the Indian state has lost the monopoly over force. There is now in India a power-that-be outside of the state, which as is well-known is notably averse to some (if not all) constitutional provisions. This is not a new or emergent reality. The riot system has been around since Partition. In a famous instance, a regional satrap had apparently given the rioters 72 hours to be able to wreak their vengeance. In the interim, the subverted and spineless police allegedly misdirected army columns coming to aid of civil authority. The army's after action report has not been leaked (as yet).
A religious figure, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, recently pointed to the potential for violence in case the verdict in the Ayodhya land dispute was to go against any community. In one interpretation, while it is taken for granted that the Muslims, if disappointed by the verdict, would go down the route of terrorism, radical Hindus are expected to riot. Here the RSS supremo's boast on his organisation's mobilizing capability needs to be factored in. Essentially, Ravi Shankar is informing of possible mob violence. Doing so can be taken as cautionary, as also as intimidating. The latter is in relation to Muslims, who have been at one end of Ravi Shankar's unilateral intervention in the case for an out-of-court settlement. The possibility of mob violence as a result of its judgment cannot but exercise the Supreme Court to be cautious. It is no wonder that the august body ruled that there be no undue activism by sundry busy bodies, such as Subramaniam Swamy, while it deliberates on the matter.
The portended violence is not necessarily emotive, arising from primordial affiliations of religion and identity. It is rather an orchestrated likelihood, particularly since the ruling party that has perfected the riot system - that was originally honed by the erstwhile ruling party, the Congress. It has deployed the system to electorally benefit from resulting polarization, for instance, in Muzzafarnagar and more recently in Kasganj. Since the development mantra is unlikely to work a second time round (the first having been in 2014) and in light of its record on this score over the past four years, the need for riots is nigh. The recent losses in Phulpur and Gorakhpur only serve to heighten the need for a mother-of-all-riots. It is with good reason that the opposition party called for a delay in the Supreme Court's judgment on the Ayodhya case till after the national elections.
What the discussion suggests is that there is an emergent deep state in India that would like to mould the democratic verdict in a particular way. At this juncture in the discussion, the question arises as to the extent of reach of rightist political formations into the state itself. The depth of this reach into the heart of the Indian state is the level of current day articulation of the deep state in India.
The sub-judice case that prompted spillover into the open domain of the internal dissent within the highest court of the land provides a clue. The case in question is the mysterious death of one CBI court judge and the subsequent (perplexing) exoneration of a high-profile political personage in the case of 'encounter' deaths dating to 2005 in Gujarat. The deaths, initiated at the behest of an intelligence bureau input, were instrumental in elevating the national profile of the provincial head there, which over the following years acquired increasing prominence riding on the planted and motivated canard of a fifth columnist minority. The aim was the manufacture of an impregnable vote bank and turn India into a majoritarian democracy.
The ploy succeeded as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), tottering from scam to scandal, did not have the gumption for a judicial follow through. By the end of the UPA period, the beginnings of the deep state were evident, but outside the state itself. The formation and direction of the troll brigades to bring down the UPA and take over the anti-corruption agenda is evidence. The wannabe deep state then is now the deep state.
The Indian deep state has had a short existence so far. Faced with national elections, and an uncertain outcome, it may not grow to becoming a deep state in the conventional definition. The need for self-perpetuation, and its self-justifying rationale of preserving the good work done so far of strides towards a Hindu India, require that elections return the ruling party to power. Self-preservation implies insuring against judicial accountability. Since to them aims justify the means, it promises to be an interesting run up to national elections.