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.