Tuesday, 29 May 2018


Opening up the cantonments: Army in the cross hairs of the right

The latest buzz on social media circles of the military is the opening up of cantonments, the cloistered military administered spaces, to ‘poor bloody civilians’, supposedly at the behest of the novice defence minister. Interestingly, there is little mention of the this in the media though.

After the brazen and horrific attacks on cantonments (and an airbase) in J&K, the military has been understandably rather paranoid on security of its families residing in the cantonments. It turned these into fortresses along lines recommended by a committee headed by a former vice chief, using up Rs. 14,097 crores on perimeter security.

A longstanding grievance in surrounding communities has been that cantonments had over the years progressively been placed off limits, with the army citing security. This limited thoroughfares, forcing circuitous routes on harried civilian commuters. In one instance, in Pune, a village on the outskirts was cut off from the city by the College of Military Engineering walling itself off, making villagers reportedly take a 30 km wide detour. Naturally, the courts were marshalled by the affected people, such as in Secunderabad, home to one of the larger cantonments.

As cities surrounded cantonments on outskirts, the military’s breathing space was throttled little by little. Further, the military, fearing covetous eyes of defence ministers with a reputation for land deals, such as, for instance, Sharad Pawar, fenced off its land, imposing on communities historically living within cantonment limits and those cheek-by-jowl with the boundaries. Hurriedly, the military converted golf courses into night training areas or some such innovative cover. Golf course memberships were much in demand in the neighbouring civilian elite.

Also, apart largely from north India, it’s members were a relatively alien presence elsewhere, temporarily forced to reside alongside people of a different look, colour and language. Walling themselves in was a rough and ready answer. One good thing to come out of this self-incarceration has been that cantonments now account for the green lungs of unplanned metropolisis that have since grown up around them. Even this added to the enticing allure of cantonments, with neighbours wanting a breath of the fresh air.

Almost as if in response to the grievances of communities in vicinity of cantonments the defence ministry reportedly suddenly lifted the barricades, opening up garrisons to sundry morning walkers and those out for a tree-lined short cut. It would seem the ruling party is out for a set of additional votes, which by the yardstick that it is ruling in some 20 states does not really need.

This begs the question then as to what motivated the order.

Perhaps the regime best knows that the security measures were never needed in first place, other than in J&K. The jihadist threat was never what it was made out to be, inflated by cultural nationalists in the media and propagated by a communalized intelligence community. The spate of exonerations of Muslims incarcerated in terror cases for lack of evidence is proof. That saffron terrorists have also been left off suggests where terror – taken as Muslim perpetrated – originated. The purpose was polarization, to pave the way for a messiah to centerstage from his provincial perch. Therefore, for a government aware of this to call off the pretense of a Muslim threat to its security forces billets, now that it has been milked for all its worth – the levels of Muslim marginalization becoming rather embarrassing - is explicable.

For its part, the army - that otherwise surely knows as much - was quick to use the opportunity to preserve its islands in urban sprawls. In quick time it turned the greenery and training grounds into concrete under accelerated housing schemes, needed for recuperation of soldiery before being relaunched back into India’s largest and longest lasting security commitment, J&K.

The army kept up the charade, investing in guard towers and sandbagged bunkers for those garrisons in sight of Muslim localities (such as the author’s locality down south). The southern army commander opined as recently as April this year that anti-nationals have appeared as the new challenge across India. He took care not to define who he meant, knowing which community the label would stick to.

He was referring to the expectation in the army of being interdicted enroute when off from a cold start in cantonments to launch pads near the border. It is no wonder then that the social media lauds the purported go-slow by Southern Command, under the guise of reviewing security concerns, on the order to throw open the doors of cantonments.

His action has been inadvertent. Here the answer is only superficially a conspiracy theory. The right-wing government wants more visibility into the cantonment, to be able to see what is brewing in those restricted spaces.

Advisedly, it does have a worry. The army is the last institution standing. Outside the sarkari remit, the Cobrapost revelations on youtube has shown up the state of institutions, in this case the fourth estate. This explains why the storm in the military’s social media teacup on this issue has not found its way into the media this time round.

The ruling party best knows what can originate in a cantonment. It has within its ministerial ranks a general who reputedly spooked South Block bureaucrats by ordering a movement of a military outfit, on the eve of a court case hearing he had foisted on the defence ministry. Quite sensibly, the ruling party does not want to be in a similar situation.

Increased visibility into the cantonment, the democratization of its reserved spaces, its invasion by all and sundry and the normalization of its landscape with noise and pollution, insures against the cantonment keeping any secrets.

This is part of a wider assault on the military. The salacious book on army wives and a movie with a rising star in lead role on corruption in the army are not unrelated. The right wing’s head honcho’s unfavourable comparison of the army with his storm troopers, in relation to mobilization timings, was to put the army in its place in the new schema.

The army needs to lose its sheen, so that it is vulnerable to subversion from within and control from without. Merely placing an amiable chief at the helm, under the doctrine of ‘relative ease of doing business with’ as voiced by a propagandist of the previous defence minister, is not enough.

That India has a subordinate military is not enough, especially when the complexion of India is to change after the coming elections. Unfortunately, with the opposition bouncing back after the Karnataka elections, the election outcome has acquired a question mark. Compulsions of polarisation, a Chanakyan turn at the elections or a majoritarian turn thereafter, all could lead to a Constitution-under-threat backlash. The military could turn bulwark of an India as it should be and must remain. It needs being neutralized well before that.

Saturday, 26 May 2018


The Doval Scorecard

On his nomination as National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit Doval had acquired a larger-than-life image. Hagiographical accounts of his derring-do as an intelligence officer in all of India’s national security predicaments since the 1971 war—including Mizoram, Punjab, Pakistan, Kashmir and Kandahar—have featured him in a stellar role (Gokhale 2014). He remained indefatigable in retirement as founding head of the Vivekananda International Foundation, where his think tank provided respectability to the penetration of cultural nationalism into the strategic discourse (Donthi 2017). While at it, he comprehensively stalled any national security initiatives of the United Progressive Alliance—such as its last gasp in reaching out to Pakistan in 2013—by leading Delhi’s strategic community in warning against any such initiative (Vivekananda International Foundation 2013). By early 2014, he had staked a claim, laid out in lectures across the country, on heading the national security apparatus; the more (in)famous claim being during a lecture in which he warned that Pakistan stood to lose Baluchistan if another attack like the 26/11 attack in Mumbai were to happen (The Fearless Indian 2014). It was not a surprise then that one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s very first decisions on reaching 7, Race Course Road, was to appoint Doval as the NSA.
As the NSA, Doval hit the ground running. Modi’s foreign policy coup of bringing together the heads of neighbouring countries, Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif among them, is attributed to him. It did not take long for criticism to catch up with him. Critics had it that he was—true to his reputation—tactically agile, but strategically untested. Unfortunately for him, the skill set that goes with a proactive intelligence profile, does not necessarily lend itself to a sound performance at the strategic level (Ahmed 2015). For instance, though Sharif’s presence at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt presaged an opening up to Pakistan, by the end of the season, the follow-on foreign secretary-level talks were called off. Instances of smart about-turns continued. Barely had Modi landed back in India from visiting Sharif at his Raiwind farmhouse on Christmas eve in 2015, the possibilities of the peace process resuming after this outreach were spiked yet again a week later, with India referencing a terrorist attack on the Pathankot airfield.
Even so, the actions in the national security field were such and so fast in coming, that some had it that there was a new national security doctrine at play. While some dubbed this the “Doval doctrine” (Noorani 2015), others—mindful of the overlord—called it the “Modi doctrine” (Chaulia 2016). The high-water mark of the national security reset was the “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control (LoC) in late September 2016. The opposition was quick to point out that these had precedent, the difference being that earlier governments in place did not seek to profit politically from such strikes. In short, little had changed, but the attendant perception-management exercise had been taken to new levels. This owed less to national security factors than to the electoral calculus of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Modi and Amit Shah.
This political need of the BJP, which has kept it in election mode all through its tenure, stems from its deep linkages with the right-wing organisations headed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Their aim is to profit from Modi’s sway over voters for a cultural-nationalism inspired reset of India, one distanced from an inclusive, plural, democratic, and secular India. Democratic gains by the BJP covering all regions in India, the latest being inroads into the south by their electoral showing in Karnataka, place this within sight.
Alongside, a hollowing out of institutions is underway. The state of the ruling party is itself a case in point, as brought out by an old-timer in the party who has since left, Yashwant Sinha (2018). Taking the cue, the police, bureaucracy, and media have keeled over. Even the armed forces have not been spared, with the army’s proverbial line-of-succession that is predicated on seniority being rudely tweaked to elevate Bipin Rawat—who had developed a working relationship with Doval—over two of his seniors to head it (Dutta 2016). The judiciary is currently in the cross hairs, perhaps with a view to making it an inert institution, which would enable the Modi government to trifle with the basic structure of the Constitution sometime into its next tenure should it win the 2019 elections (Business Standard 2018).
What this enervation of institutions spells for national security is rather obvious. National security is a function of the good health of these institutions and their pulling together. Therefore, in evaluating the Doval tenure as head of the national security establishment, it would not do to restrict the assessment to how India has managed its external and internal security environment alone. Doval’s place in history needs examining against what his role has been in bringing about a denouement today, in which India stands vulnerable to a majoritarian assault on its fundamentals. To his clients in the right-wing conglomerate, Doval has by this yardstick succeeded admirably.
Not in National Interest
But, first, we take a look at Doval’s exertions in the field of mainstream national security in relation to Pakistan and China. Even while India professed to be matching up to China, it suddenly backed down. Take, for instance, the “informal summit” with China at Wuhan last month. It is a step back for India, intended to paper over the Doklam episode where Chinese activity has reportedly continued. With the informal summit, Modi has bought some time by negotiating a lull in the election year. The army has been asked to moderate its responses on the Line of Actual Control (Som 2018). A former military adviser in the national security system notes, “Only a calculation based on the dynamics of domestic politics can yield a suggestion to keep quiet [on Chinese aggression]” (Menon 2018a). One advantage of stability on the China front is an increase in the possibility of mounting pressure on Pakistan. A climbdown on the China front does away with a two-front problem, enabling pressure to be mounted on the Pakistan front. India espied an opportunity in the pressure on Pakistan promised by United States President Donald Trump. This, however, has not quite materialised and the Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has gone on to offer an olive branch to the Taliban. India appears to have since fallen in line. Not only has there been a drawdown in firing across the LoC, but there has been a resumption of Track II confabulations. Under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, India and Pakistan are to undertake military exercises together for the first time. Doval has taken care to keep a line open with his Pakistani counterpart, Nasser Khan Janjua. In short, Doval is taking no chances of an India–Pakistan crisis emerging and escalating to an inherently uncertain conclusion in the election year.
Implicit in India’s allocation of the lowest amount for defence in relation to its gross domestic product since the 1962 war (Unnithan 2018) is the message to both adversaries that, at least for this year, India would be less assertive. This is in stark contrast to the tough-on-defence image that the government aspired to and attempted to foster over the past four years. The about-turn on both fronts suggests that the electoral interests of the ruling party are now the national security imperative, and not the national interest.
Internal security initiatives have also been taken with an eye for votes. In Kashmir, Operation All-Out over the past two years has led to the killing of some 275 alleged terrorists in operations reminiscent of the 1990s (Kashmir Times 2018). The dividend from the simultaneous admi­nistration of the carrot-and-stick approach—the union government-appointed special representative’s periodic forays into Jammu and Kashmir and the military template—has not been obvious.
India could well have arrived at the possibility of peace without having gone down the route of confrontation over the last four years. The centre has reluctantly, and only partially, accepted the proposal for a ceasefire during Ramzan made by the chief minister after an all-party meet. For its part, though defiant on the LoC, Pakistan has signalled its readiness for dialogue (Baruah 2018). If India’s strategy was to display resolve through its use of force, then it is time to capitalise on the strategy. The hypothesis here that India’s security policy is driven by the BJP’s electoral calculus suggests that the potential for a peace process that the Ramzan ceasefire has will go unrealised. Instead, this juncture will be milked for showing India’s peaceful intent, useful both internationally and domestically to obscure that its ruling party needs to keep both problems alive for their internal political utility. Since national security has been allowed to be usurped for political and ideological ends, Doval is answerable.
Cultural Nationalism
The benefits of cultural nationalism—read religious majoritarianism­—for national security are not self-evident. The contrary is more likely the case, in terms of the threat of authoritarianism, impact on constitutional governance, and marginalisation of minorities. A snapshot of the impact on the three can be seen through the prism of the rule of law. The recent discharge of Maya Kodnani in the case related to the Gujarat carnage of 2002 and that of Swami Aseemanand in the Mecca Masjid blast case shows how perpetrators close to, and possibly acting at the behest of the Sangh Parivar, have been let off. Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Purohit, a leader of the saffron terror outfit, Abhinav Bharat, has been granted bail and has rejoined the army. Clearly, the plea made in 2013 by police officer D G Vanzara, when incarcerated in jail, that he and fellow cops had been abandoned appears to have been heeded by the right quarter, by Modi, who has been likened to a “god” by Vanzara (Vanzara 2013).
The crowning case is that of BJP President Amit Shah in relation to the encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and custodial killing of his wife. Even the possibilities stemming from the manner of death of Justice B H Loya, the Special Central Bureau of Investigation judge earlier handling the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case, could not make a dent, even though it led to open dissent in the upper judiciary. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) head, Sharad Kumar, under whom the agency dragged its feet in all such cases, is slated to join the National Human Rights Commission on retirement (Bhatnagar 2018). The subversion of institutions from within is the primary internal security threat taking place on Doval’s watch.
The implications need spelling out. The RSS supremo, Mohan Bhagwat, let on that he could mobilise a militia within three days (Tewary 2018). In effect, saffronite foot soldiers can graduate to becoming storm troopers in short order. The disruption at Aligarh Muslim University on the day of a function at which the former vice president was to speak is indicative of such power and its outcome. The invasion of the makeshift open-air Friday prayer of Muslims in Gurugram by majoritarian outfits over successive weeks, under the watch of a benign BJP government, is another example.
In short, there is a parallel structure of force in place. A shift in the monopoly over the use of force from the state to such structures is underway as the state apparatus kowtows to the parallel power centres. If this elides the head of India’s national security establishment, Doval, it is not because he is oblivious or merely complicit, but is more likely the chief steward. The profile of Doval carried in the Caravanprovides a clue (Donthi 2017). He is quoted arguing that there is a “higher rationale” in which the rights-based rule of law must yield to the welfare of the collective. For him, and in the cultural-nationalist perspective, the national interest is that of the majority community.
Finally, with the current government having barely a year left in its term, the jury is likely to remain out on the new-fangled Defence Planning Committee (DPC) with Doval as its head. The DPC has been charged with, among and as a precursor to other things, the task of ­formulating a national security strategy. This amounts to Doval inadvertently writing his own appraisal since it testifies to India’s dysfunctional national security system having remained in place over the last four years, though the BJP came to power claiming that it could best revitalise it. As remedy, it has resorted, rather late in its term, to collapsing policy, strategy, and planning into one package in the form of the DPC for the sake of political optics (Menon 2018b).
More importantly, Doval’s ultimate test is yet to come. In case his mentor, Modi, is increasingly beleaguered, it is widely expected that the mandir card will be played. It is not without purpose that the opposition had requested the apex court to postpone its judgment on the issue to after the elections. The god-man Sri Sri Ravishankar has predicted a Syria-like situation in case the verdict goes against the claim of one of the two communities, taking care not to name the community (Joshi 2018). Any pronouncement on Doval can only follow from how the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision turns out. Though it is unlikely that Doval will baulk at this potential culmination point of the Hindutva takeover of India, how he handles the Hindutva machinery may yet be an opportunity to vindicate, if not redeem, himself.
Ahmed, Ali (2015): “India: Dissecting the Doval Doctrine,” Eurasia Review, 7 August, http://www.eurasiareview.com/07082015-india-dissecting-the-doval-doctrine-oped/.
Baruah, Amit (2018): “Pakistan Army Ready to Join Dialogue Process with India,” Hindu, 17 May, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ready-to-join-dialogue-with-india-pak-army/article23905872.ece.
Bhatnagar, G V (2018): “National NGO Network Opposes Ex-NIA Chief’s Proposed Appointment as NHRC Member,” Wire, 16 May, https://thewire.in/rights/national-ngo-network-opposes-ex-nia-chiefs-proposed-appointment-as-nhrc-member.
Business Standard (2018): “BJP Will Make Major Assault on Constitution if It Controls Both Houses, Says Shashi Tharoor,” 8 February, http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/bjp-planning-major-assault-on-constitution-shashi-tharoor-ians-interview-118020800551_1.html.
Chaulia, Sreeram (2016): The Modi Doctrine: Foreign Policy of India’s Prime Minister, New Delhi: Bloomsbury India.
Donthi, Praveen (2017): “Undercover: Ajit Doval in Theory and Practice,” Caravan, 1 September, http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/ajit-doval-theory-practice.
Dutta, Saikat (2016): “Gen Rawat’s Appointment as Army Chief Is in Line with Modi’s Aggressive Foreign Policy,” Scroll.in, 19 December, https://scroll.in/article/824529/rawats-appointment-as-army-chief-is-in-line-with-modis-aggressive-foreign-policy.
Gokhle, Nitin (2014): “Ajit Doval: The Spy Who Came In from the Cold,” NDTV, 30 May, https://www.ndtv.com/people/ajit-doval-the-spy-who-came-in-from-the-cold-564734.
Joshi, Padmaja (2018): “If Not Resolved Amicably, Janmaboomi Dispute Can Turn India into Syria: Sri Sri,” India Today, 5 March, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/if-not-resolved-amicably-janmaboomi-dispute-can-turn-india-into-syria-sri-sri-1182073-2018-03-05.
Kashmir Times (2018): “Forces in J&K to Stop Ops during Ramzan,” 17 May, http://www.kashmirtimes.in/newsdet.aspx?q=79199.
Menon, Prakash (2018a): “Doklam—India’s Silence Is a Strategic Blunder,” Indian National Interest, 20 March, https://nationalinterest.in/doklam-indias-silence-is-a-strategic-blunder-3c172516ae98.
— (2018b): “The Problems of Defence Planning,” Pragati, 16 May, https://www.thinkpragati.com/opinion/4527/the-problems-of-defence-planning/.
Noorani, Abdul Ghafoor (2015): “The Doval Doctrine,” Frontline, 13 November, http://www.frontline.in/the-nation/the-doval-doctrine/article7800194.ece.
Sinha, Yashwant (2018): “Dear Friend, Speak Up,” Indian Express, 17 April, http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/narendra-modi-budget-economy-rapes-foreign-policies-yashwant-sinha-5139969/.
Som, Vishnu (2018): “’No Aggressive Patrolling’ Along China Border, Army Told After Wuhan Meet,” NDTV, 2 May, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/no-aggressive-patrolling-along-china-border-army-told-after-wuhan-meet-1846210.
Tewary, Amarnath (2018): “RSS Can Prepare an Army within Three Days, Says Mohan Bhagwat,” Hindu, 12 February, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/rss-can-prepare-an-army-within-3-days-mohan-bhagwat/article22727198.ece.
The Fearless Indian (2015): “Ajit Doval Warns Pakistan “You Do One More Mumbai, You Lose Balochistan,” 7 January, (10th Nani Palkhivala Memorial Lecture by Ajit Kumar Doval, Sastra University, 21 February), YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7ESR5RU3X4.
Unnithan, Sandeep (2018): “Budget Squeeze Threatens Indian Army’s Preparedness for Possible Two-front War,” India Today, 3 May, https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/cover-story/story/20180514-defence-budget-squeeze-indian-army-unprepared-for-wars-1226462-2018-05-03.
Vanzara, Dahyabhai Gobarji (2013): “Read DG Vanzara’s Letter,” Times of India, 3 September, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Read-DG-Vanzaras-letter/articleshow/22262722.cms.
Vivekananda International Foundation (2013): “Press Statement on India-Pakistan Relations by Members of India’s Strategic Community,” press statement, 9 August, http://www.vifindia.org/event/report/2013/august/09/press-statement-on-india-pakistan-relations-by-members-of-india-s-strategic-community.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018


The army chief as regime spokeman?

The regime deployed two information war heavyweights over the past week to counter stone throwing Kashmiri youth. The first was the chief regime apologist, Chetan Bhagat, who writing in the Sunday Times, sought to deter stone throwers by advocating they be locked away for indulging in criminal activity. The second was the army chief, no spring chicken himself in info war having done his doctoral work on media and conflict. He advised Kashmiri youth that both stones and guns are futile since they cannot fight the army. He warned, Azadi is ‘never’ going to happen.
Two salvoes together might suggest to the stone throwing youth they are getting it right. It would be too much to expect the regime to be embarrassed - even on behalf of India - at the sorry spectacle of the army having to fire on unarmed stone pelters. Since Israel is at it too at the Gaza border, resulting at last count some 52 dead Palestinians (at the time of writing even as the figure rises with Nakba Day nearing), India is in the same boat as its role model, even if India’s figures are somewhat (thankfully) less. Nevertheless, stone throwers might read in the two info war stalwarts going at them that they have managed to somewhat disconcert the regime.
Of course, they would know that it is not a case of ‘ek dhakka aur do’ (‘give it one more push’). They don’t need the army chief to remind them that the army ‘will fight you (them) with all our (the army’s) force’. They don’t need reminding by the Underage Optimist (a sobriquet bestselling Bhagat has coined for himself) of the opportunity costs such as exacted of tourism, economy etc.
Hurriyet patriarch Geelani put it rightly that the army chief (true for Mr. Bhagat too) does not understand what’s going on. Attributing the ‘Intifada’ look-alike (the IIM-IIT graduate Bhagat helpfully informs that the word means ‘to shake off’) in Kashmir to Pakistani incitement by the Chief is a dead give way. But, to his credit, the army chief admits that he is still wracking his mind as to what motivates the youth (‘I am still trying to understand where did all that anger come from.’)
He has been at it for a year now. The last time he admitted mystification is when he hoped that the youth would take to arms, enabling the army to shoot them down without a qualm. While some youth have obliged, such as the doctoral student from Aligarh Muslim University and recently the assistant professor from the Kashmir University, most have stuck to stones. This has prevented the army chief from using tactics from Syria and Pakistan where, according to the chief, ‘they use tanks and air power in similar situations.’
Yet again a betrayal of ignorance, or, more likely, a willful distortion of reality – an info war tactic. There is little comparison between the Kashmiri insurgency and the terrorism in those countries. There the terrorists are rather well armed (as their Western backers (once) would know) and in instances hold, or have held, territory. This has required the application of additional firepower to dislodge them, necessitating the tactics involving tanks and air power. This is not the case in Kashmir. Where it was so in one instance, in Hil Kaka in Surankot, helicopters were deployed in an offensive role during Operation Sarp Vinash that had the terrorists vacate the area. India has not fought shy of using airpower in Aizwal. Given this, the army chief appears to be practicing intimidation, hoping the scenarios might scare where employment of pellet guns, snipers and bullets have not.             
Info war usually has multiple targets in the cross hairs. The army chief’s interview also had his own military constituency to influence. In his explanatory interview last year in the aftermath of awarding Leetul Gogoi – of the human shield infamy - with his commendation card, he admitted that one of his key focus areas was to keep up the morale of his force. This time too he had this to say, ‘My officer felt that he is being abandoned. I can’t let my officer feel that.’ Another officer had figured in an first information report, this time for his patrol shooting dead two stone pelters.
An institutional head having his internal constituency to fore amidst addressing a long standing national security challenge should give pause. Sympathetic commentary may have it that this is explicable given that a military chief is expected to give out the military’s position. To them, the political class has to temper the military position by taking a political – higher – line.
That said, strategic myopia that prevents looking beyond one’s nose, cannot be excused of those operating at the strategic level. The problem – admitted to sotto voce usually – is that the mentality of those climbing the military’s greasy pole seldom matures beyond their first appointment as corporal at the National Defence Academy. The mindset gets reinforced with successive appointments beginning with sergeant and cadet adjutant, and by the time they get flag rank, it is rather frozen. Bluntly put, the army chief has kept his strategic acumen rather well hidden so far.
As if on cue, he stepped in to spike yet another peace possibility. His last hatchet job was in puncturing Dnyaneshwar Sharma’s car, even as Mr. Sharma got into it last October, saying military operations will not be affected by appointment of an interlocutor. This time round it was to put the state’s political parties in their place. The 9 May all party meeting in Srinagar had promise. Their idea of a ceasefire had potential, so much so that even the otherwise comatose special representative of the union government, Mr. Missing-in-Action Sharma, admitted to a spying a ‘positive’ turn.
The army chief – true to form - quickly reminded the nation that the ceasefire idea was unmindful of the military’s concerns. He asked helplessly, “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?’’ Using his shoulders to fire, his political master – who according to the sympathetic theory should have moderated the military’s position – instead jumped to clobber the budding peace initiative, virtually repeating the chief’s lines: ‘“Indian army has to firmly handle any terrorism which threatens the peace and harmony of Jammu and Kashmir as a state and of the rest of country. The army’s position is that it has to be firm on terrorism.” The lady minister can be excused for informing of the army’s position (‘The army’s position is that…’). She is learning on the job. Rather costly for national security, but it’s the price of democracy, foregrounding the flotsam and jetsam deposited in power by the Modi wave. It begs the question why did the government need the army chief as mouth piece, and, worse, why does the army chief need to fit the bill as spokesman?
The long and shot of all this is that as with its other policies – China, Pakistan, internal security, employment, Make-in-India etc – the government is also floundering on Kashmir. It is unable to finesse the exercise of force over the past three years with dividend on the table in relation to either Pakistani good behavior or Kashmiri quiescence. Force is meant to have purpose. If it is not yielding result on the lines expected, then it is being misapplied. Continuing with it is therefore insane, as a famous definition of stupidity has it. India could well claim victory and count its eggs. The Pakistani army chief has been helpfully providing the necessary peace verbiage for some six months now. The Pakistani bail out enables India to claim victory and call a truce.
However, choosing to instead continue with it – as is the case announced by the defence minister – implies that its purpose is to bludgeon a population, an Indian community and its constituents, Indian citizens. The cover of terrorism – so usefully passed on by our strategic partners, the United States and Israel – is to only figleaf. It is no wonder that chief trumpeter Chetan Bhagat warns, ‘While efforts must never stop to listen to the other side, the moment the youth chooses violence all bets are off.’ The youth have been left with little choice. The government is in an unnecessary ‘pehle aap’ (after you) situation with youth. Perhaps it is the one believing in ‘Ek  dhakka aur do’ (one more nudge). If their provincial government has no voice, the youth cannot expect to be allowed any. To deny them their choice of voice – stones – is to be complicit. The army chief needs introspect whether his spokesman role interferes with him bringing strategic sense to his ethnic cousin Doval’s table.

Saturday, 12 May 2018


India's internal security unravels

A characteristic of a modern nation state is monopoly over use of force within its boundaries. As an aspiring great power, it is odd that India has apparently lost this characteristic four years into the current Modi regime.

For a government that came to power touting its national security mindedness, it must be judged by whether it has delivered as it gets into election gear.

The evidence is not too far from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence at 7, Race Course Road. A satellite city, Gurugram, that houses north India’s IT hub, has been witness to an assault on religious freedoms, of which India has been rightly proud over much of its independent history.

Over the past month, weekly Friday prayers offered by members of India’s largest minority, it’s Muslims, have been disrupted by majoritarian fanatics. The Indian state has largely stood by, with its elected provincial chief of the area in his statements implying that offering collective prayers in public spaces serves as a provocation.

This is not atypical of what has occurred across India. An extensive recap of the disruption of law and order is not needed, but some illustrations are in order since the claim of loss of state monopoly over use of force is rather substantial.

Saffronite vigilantes, waving the national flag, for a variety of ‘causes’ ranging from anti-love jihad to cow protection are now a familiar phenomenon.

Motorcycle borne mobs disrupt Muslim neighbourhoods at will, even, in one case, when a Muslim dominated locality was forming up to observe Republic Day.

A murderer was honoured by depiction at a Ram Navmi tableau. Ram Navmi observances themselves are now graced by armed enthusiasts.

Far east, mobs took down a Lenin statue on election of the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Tripura.

Violence on the sidelines of protests by the Mahars in Maharashtra early this year and by Dalits across India was engineered by the saffron brigade, out to implicate lower caste protestors for the violence.

Breakdown in rule of law is visible in the letting-off of saffronite terrorists by courts, among whom figure a police officer, Vanzara; an army officer, Purohit; a politician, Kodnani; and saffron-clad Pragya Thakur.

In Central India, police claim gunning down of 37 Maoists in Gadchiroli, amongst whom it is later found number at least 8 innocent civilians - who the police went on to claim were new recruits.

The perception of impunity is such that in Kathua a group of ruling party supporters set about attempting to set off ethnic cleansing through an ‘incident(s)’ (to quote the prime minister) of gang rape and murder of a minor victim from a minority, nomadic community. In a milder instance from Assam, ruling party affiliated people put up black flags of the Islamic State, attempting to suggests extremist Muslims are proactively seeking recruits.

Investigation agencies have tracked down no clue on the mysterious disappearance of a Muslim student, Najeeb, from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus. JNU students demonstrating against other assorted impositions by the administration have been assaulted by the police on the streets of the national capital, with woman journalists covering the event being molested by the police.

Under its head, a Modi namesake and member of the Supreme Court appointed special investigation team that spared Modi in relation to his alleged role in the Gujarat carnage, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is out to outdo the Central Bureau of Investigation, upon which the highest court conferred the sobriquet ‘caged parrot’. The NIA has been rightly called ‘blind and deaf’, albeit by an opposition political figure, Owaisi, riled at perpetrators of terror bombings in his backyard, at the Mecca Masjid, being let off due to deliberately shoddy investigation and prosecution.

In short, internal security has unraveled.

First, majoritarian nationalists are now a law unto themselves. The annual orations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh supremo, its Sarsangchalak, covering national security on Vijay Dashmi, are televised live by the national broadcaster. Mocking the army, he made the very plausible claim that his footsoldiers can mobilise within three days. A famous godman has given a clue as to what these legions could do. Speaking on the way the Supreme Court verdict could go, the Art of Living founder said that there would be bloodshed by a ‘Hindu majority’ that would not ‘allow it’.

Second, the institutions of state that are to provision internal security – the police, intelligence and investigation agencies – are playing along. This is hardly the manner of being responsive to control by the democratically elected political head. Rule of law implies professional adherence to rules, legal standards, cultural norms and morality. The inability to stand up to wrongful exercise of authority is beyond the extent as might be expected from fear alone. To be sure, the institutions had been hollowed out long ago. However, the levels of departure from the desiderata is now of the order of politicizing of law and justice institutions through subversion by right wing philosophy, cultural nationalism.

Third, those that are to oversee these institutions in their ministerial role are themselves from, and, from annual sittings with the Sangh leadership, appear to be answerable to the Parivaar. Their moorings are thus outside of the Constitution they are sworn to defend. They are the conduit for the right-wing usurpation of the state apparatus and appropriation of the state for its own ends.

To be fair to them, as believers in cultural nationalism (the Prime Minister once called himself a ‘Hindu nationalist’) and in power democratically, they feel they can re-do secularism, pluralism, inclusiveness and democracy in their image. Even if embarrassed by their zealous devotees and supporters, they cannot disown them, leave alone act against them, since they are also dependent on the Parivaar’s muscle power at election time. Where necessary, the Parivaar can be reigned in, such as after Obama’s adverse observations during his Republic Day trip occasioned by the post-elections spike in anti-Christian incidents in India. PM Modi immediately intoned against such acts, putting a stop to them. That he has been unable to get himself to issue a similar statement against anti-Muslim violence by his devotees shows up equally his unwillingness as much as his inability.

Since such a juncture has been democratically arrived at, only elections can undo it. The forthcoming elections are thus crucial, offering an opportunity to wrest the monopoly of use of force back from the Parivaar to the state from those who have bartered it away for electoral gain, power and, in their lights, for the greater glory of Hinduism. Alongside several other persuasive arguments against their continuing in power – such as the mess in foreign policy in respect of both Pakistan and China – this insight from internal security is good enough reason for showing them the door.

The problem is that the between now and elections the full implication of this loss of monopoly of force by the state and its acquisition by right wing forces will likely be on full display. The closer the regime gets to sniffing a possible roll back of the Modi wave, the more likely this denouement. Precedence exists in the initial days of PM Modi’s accession to power, when the then prime minister felt that Raj Dharma had been willfully blindsided.