Monday, 30 July 2018 

Another disastrous idea from the Modi-Doval stable

(unedited version)
There are two possibilities prompting the Modi Sarkar’s recent airing of a succession of potentially disastrous ideas. One possibility is that the ruling party is panicked and wants to reassure its base that it is alive and well ideologically. The second is to self-confidently provide a preview of its manifesto, setting the stage for the next five years when it would take these up.
One such idea was interfering with the allocation of service to higher civil services inductees. Hitherto it has been based on their merit on clearing the Union Public Services Commission exam. The government wishes to add their showing at the brief Foundation Course at the civil services academy in Mussoorie to the decision on allocation. Critics easily saw through the game plan as one to identify ‘right’ thinking candidates and place them strategically for the purposes of the right wing.
The other idea is to have aspirants for recruitment into the security forces – the military, paramilitary (which presumably includes the central armed police) and police – clear a year-long course instilling a sense of ‘discipline and nationalism’ under the National Youth Empowerment Scheme (N-YES). The course is meant for those exiting classes X and XII and is to impart, inter-alia, training on ‘yoga, ayurveda and Indian philosophy’.
While acquaintance with information technology, disaster management, physical training etc., intended to be part of the course appear unexceptionable, these can only be window dressing for Hindutva by the backdoor. The meat is in the indoctrination.
Currently, those signing up for the security forces are not short of patriotism, even if some opt for these avenues only for landing a job. What the government proposes is to make the course an ‘essential qualification’ for recruitment. This would incentivize enrolment in the course – along with the proposed stipend for those undertaking it - making the course a vehicle for propagation of the Hindutva ideology – the ideology of the ruling party and its supporting political and ‘cultural’ formations. And, with government funding – filched from the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and National Service Scheme.
This is the brainchild of the Modi-Doval combine, to which is credited India’s national security in the form of ‘Modi doctrine’ to some and ‘Doval doctrine’ to others. While Modi prides his NCC background, no doubt well below his shakha days, Doval is product of a military school. Both having made it to the top perhaps credit their respective training and wish to foist it on others, now that they are in a position to do so. To them, militarisation is the route to nationalism of the desired kind: one folk (Hindus), one realm (Bharat), under one - needless-to-name - grand leader.   
Politically, it furthers the government’s targeting of youth with its ideological baggage. Other such measures have been episodes of Mann ki Baat devoted to youth matters, that children across the country forced to watch by school managements as dictated by subservient education officials. Another was the release of a book on exam eve on how to crack exams, authored - or so its dust jacket indicates - by no less than the prime minister himself. (It is another matter that the prime minister’s supposed bachelor’s degree remains a state secret, off limits even to information transparency under the Right to Information Act provisions.) The hope is when they join the electorate, they will heighten the crest of the next Modi wave.
This brainwave - if allowed to be implemented by the electorate allowing Modi the benefit of doubt for another term - has a wider agenda. It will help turn out an annual cohort of 10 lakh ‘force of youth’, expanding numbers currently restricted to attending Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakhas on public property, such as in mohalla parks, whence Muslims at prayer were at one location unceremoniously turned out. Together they will form India’s jugend. The debate over whether what India has been witnessing over the past four years is authoritarianism or fascism will be settled decisively thereafter.
What will such youth make of the military when in the military?  
The idea will be sold to the military as a way to enhance its martial vigour. The national security narrative of a besieged India from a ‘two-front’ problem covers for such measures. On the disintegrating Russian front, the Hitler youth, conscripted into the Waffen Schutzstaffel, were at the forefront of suicidal attacks and last stands, that the Wehrmacht itself avoided where possible at the cost of incurring Hitler’s wrath.
For such charging up, mere education will not do. Education must defer to militarism. Last year, an education ministry initiative called for updating of school curricula with a leaf from the sainik school repertoire that includes discipline, physical training and a ‘patriotic outlook’ (shorthand for cultural nationalism). Presumably, by now it is underway in hapless centrally funded and controlled Kendriya Vidhyalayas and Navodaya Vidhyalayas.
Instilling martial virtue in recruitment candidates is a sugar coating. The question has a rather short, straight answer. While those not making it to the security forces deploy as foot-soldiers policing India against liberals, Muslim men, women, gays, Dalits, activists, ‘Maoists’ etc., the military – that alone can put them back into the bottle – would be paralysed, with its lower ranks sharing the world view. The military’s officer cadre – in which is anchored its professionalism – will be outflanked. In short, the military will be subverted.
This is an important precondition to the changes Shashi Tharoor warns about. There are constitutional changes afoot when the ruling party gets another lease in power. It has already more or less shifted secular India to being Hindu India. According to Hindutva votaries, India is secular owing to it being Hindu. To others, a Hindu India is recipe for Hindu Pakistan.
A recent theme is the sanctity of the constitution, which when changed would imply equal sanctity for the changes. Constitutional change could also do without pushback from other institutions, such as in the form of periodic cautionary open letters from retired civil servants and military veterans concerned at the downhill plunge of the republic. The public and publicized venting of hate on Swami Agnivesh recently, alongside four years of lynchings, should serve to silence. Hindu Pakistan will be midwifed by Hindutva’s jugend, mass produced with public monies.
The military in the cross-hairs needs reminding that this idea is not just another one it has been subjected to endure lately. It is of a different order than opening of cantonment roads. It is also of a higher order than whether 126 Rafale aircraft are better than 36 Rafale and whether half a mountain strike corps is enough. It needs warning that an ‘essential requirement’ that its candidates be N-YES qualified seeks to undermine its secular, apolitical and inclusive footing. It needs iteration that a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and liberal democracy can only have a military subscribing to a liberal idea of India.   

Sunday, 22 July 2018 

Decoding the Logic Behind the Shelving of India’s Mountain Strike Corps

(Unedited version)

The media reports that the Indian army’s much vaunted mountain strike corps (MSC) has been put in cold storage. An insinuation attributed by the media to unnamed sources has it that the MSC’s being put on hold owes to it being a result of institutional interest rather than on strategic necessity.
According to such sources, the army officer corps was looking to feather its nest and accessing a greater slice of the defence budget. By blaming the army for inflating the threat perception in order to make itself the prima donna among the three services suggests however that the sources at the behest of the government are set on diverting attention away from the implications of the decision for the Modi government.
The government, well past its honeymoon period, has been coming in for criticism lately. Its actions following the prime minister’s end-April dash to Wuhan for an ‘informal summit’ with Xi Jinping, such as renaming of Taiwan as Chinese Taipei on the Air India website, reins put on the army’s assertive actions on the Line of Actual Control and distancing from the Tibetan government-in-exile drew adverse comment. There seemed to be turn-around from the policy of self-assertion over the past four years with its highpoint in the 73-day standoff with the Chinese at Doklam last year.
Further, the government downsized the defence budget to its lowest proportion in terms of gross domestic product this year. The government, mindful of the uncertainties that attend crisis and unforeseeable consequences of crisis in an election year, apparently has cold feet on its policy hitherto of standing up to China. It therefore needed to send a signal to China that it is drawing back its claws.
The freeze on the MSC has been the way it has done so, but to scapegoat a politically hapless army by surreptitiously putting it down needs calling out.
But first, a look at the chequered past of the MSC.
The MSC had been cleared by the previous, United Progressive Alliance (UPA), government very reluctantly and rather late in its tenure, when in its second avatar, too weak to fend off the army’s pitch for the MSC any longer, it had sanctioned the corps. The Chinese intrusion that May 2013 in the Depsang sector perhaps forced the government’s hand, with its approval coming quick in wake of the intrusion that July. The first division for the corps started raising beginning January 2014.
The successor Modi government took a view of the new raising early in its tenure, with the finance minister, Arun Jaitley, temporarily double-hatted as the defence minister, going about reviewing its necessity. In the event, the new full-time defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, indicated that the decision was a ‘temporary, not permanent freeze’ on its size.  
While on the one hand the Hindu nationalist government wanted to project a tough-on-security image, the prime minister had indicated at the combined commanders’ conference that the army would require turning to technology rather than compensate for capacity voids with manpower as it was wont to do. The decision was despite the Chinese intrusion early in the Modi tenure in Chumar sector, even as the Chinese president Xi Jinping was being hosted by Modi at Ahmedabad.
Even so, the army persisted with its raising, though it was a difficult going. Immediately prior to the 73-day stand-off with the Chinese at Doklam last year, the second division of the MSC was reportedly under raising at Pathankot. The army had to dig into its war reserve stocks to equip it, thereby depleting those stocks as the defence public service utilities and ordnance factories could not keep pace. Its vice chief controversially admitted to the parliamentary committee that the war reserve fell short of the stipulated levels.
It appears that the government has finally taken a call and clamped down on further new raisings, affecting the corps gaining its full complement. Hopes are now pinned on the study underway by the army training command on ‘optimization’, whereby manpower for the completion of the MSC can be created from within existing resources rather than by increase in recruiting as was the case so far.
The MSC can yet be completed without expanding the size of the army. In any case, the completion date had been set for 2021, as the MSC was to be set up under the 12th army plan and part of the 13th army plan, part of the long term integrated perspective plan looking out to 2027. Weapons acquisition has been underway for some two years now, with the 145 ultra-light howitzers cleared for purchase at the cost of USD 750 million under the fast track foreign military sales route in June 2016. In other words, the MSC completion is only postponed, not shelved.
This begs the question as to why so? And, why the perceived need for the government to resort to denigrating the army?
The Modi government has been in election mode all through its tenure. This has placed it in control of over a score states. However, it is hesitant as it faces national elections, with some of its initiatives, specifically the demonetization and the general services tax scheme being poorly conceived and implemented. Its strategy of polarization has been called out for taking India down the Pakistan route to failed state status with religious majoritarianism potentially running riot over governance and rule of law.
Modi is well aware that the feel-good and high-wattage advertising of Shining India had not worked to preserve the pervious National Democratic Alliance government in power. He is also aware that the social outlays of the UPA government had enabled its retaining power over two terms.
Thus, Modi needs in election year to focus domestically and can do without the distraction of a border crisis, especially with a superior foe. He does not need China in the political strategy underway of internal polarization as he approaches elections. Pakistan serves him well on this score.
Thus, he has temporarily toned down the assertive strategy in relation to China, but one to which he can revert once the elections return him to power riding on social spending and a spree of inaugurations in election year. The invite to Donald Trump to grace the republic day lets on that India continues to take its United States partnership seriously, implying that another turn round is at hand once the elections are out of the way.
If election compulsions are behind the decision, placing the army in the line of fire for the decision by implying through ‘sources’ that the army’s organizational pathologies are behind the move inflicts collateral damage on the army’s reputation.
For its part, the army advanced a strategic rationale for the MSC arguing that India faced a ‘two front’ threat. While India had the offensive capability for taming its western neighbour, the army argued that it required a similar capability for tackling its neighbour to its north. The army wished to move from dissuasion to deterrence. While the two defensive divisions that were formed in 2009-10 enabled defensive deterrence or deterrence by denial, an offensive corps would provide the punch for deterrence by punishment.
The UPA’s reluctant falling in line underscored less its agreeing with the rationale than its well-known helplessness in the period. The Modi government’s parliamentary majority enabled over the past four years to challenge the rationale. But it chose not to, using the political fallout of standing up to China to its political advantage, just as it used the escalation on the Pakistan front for its political consolidation in the Hindi heartland.

To, at the fag-end of its tenure, call into question the army’s strategic perspective and advance a reason that deflects any blame from itself for pusillanimity in overseeing it’s defence role is a new low in its political chicanery. Its inability over the past four years to put out an overarching strategic doctrine accounts for its twists and turns in the strategic field, belying its claim to a credible record on defence. It must not be easily allowed to profit electorally from this false claim.   

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Noting the spokesperson-minister’s remarks

It may be a mistake to think that the defence minister is not minding her own business. Most have mistaken her remarks on another 1947 in the offing to be from her pulpit as the spokesperson for the ruling party. They are liable to be surprised some months down the road to find that the defence minister was prescient. As defence minister she would be holding down a critical role, that of leader of the fire-fighting party off to douse the outbreak of a communal conflagration to rival 1947. The defence minister, mindful of her role, is alerting the nation to an impending calamity. A defence minister so concerned is what the nation needs at such an hour of foreboding. This is the charitable interpretation of her remarks.
An army put to aid to civil authority under such a defence minister would surely save the day. Such an army would take the time between now and then to reprise links with the state authorities through its area and sub area headquarters, put in place communication hotlines with redundancies and practice troops to contingencies, foreseen and unforeseen. It would maintain a confidential line to the intelligence bureau at all levels of hierarchy. It would ensure the protocols are in place for preventive, preemptive and responsive action, to seize the initiative. Each column commander would know the parallel administrator, magistrate and the station house officer and have their mobile numbers; social media presence details; and how to get in touch with them when the network and internet is shut down in anticipation. Each commander will be pepped up to ensuring no innocent death or rapine occurs on his watch. His troops will be keyed up to play their role in preserving the nation yet again from a national calamity brought on by its wayward politics. They would do their defence minister proud. Saving the nation thus, she may – who knows - go on to be a grateful nation’s future prime minister.
Now for a less charitable version. Just suppose for a moment the critics of the defence minister’s remarks are right: that she is at it in her dual role as spokesperson for the ruling party, a role she has been unable to shed since she was elevated to cabinet rank, with a seat at the cabinet committee on security and the national security council.  
An army led by the spokesperson of the ruling party is unlikely to deploy timely. Quite like at the time of the Bombay carnage of 1993 and the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, it would be called in too late. It would be misled by a communalized police on the ground. It would be holding up placards, quite like it did when it went to clean up the mess in the heartland of Jatland, announcing - like the police in movies always arriving safely late –  that it has arrived to ring down the curtains. It would then dutifully conduct an internal inquiry, which would be duly filed away in some dusty cupboard – recall the internal report tendered after the Gujarat pogrom by General ‘Zoom’ Zamiruddin Shah (later Vice Chancellor Aligarh Muslim University) - under the watch of a bhakt-bureaucrat of the Gujarat cadre suitably deputed to the defence ministry for just this purpose.
Even so, what can be said without fear of contradiction is that - unfortunately for the split personality spokesperson-minister and try as the Sangh might - the Indian army will not end up doing what they expect or hope for: as a super-gunned police force. While that is all good, is it good enough? What are the dictates of the military dharma in a hypothetical situation painted by its political master?
It is not for this commentator to answer the poser. The military hierarchy had better take their boss seriously, at her word. What they make of it will be known as early as December, since plain-speaking Bharat Karnad, in an article, informs of a rumour of early elections: to have the BJP preempt the drubbing it is likely to get in the forthcoming provincial elections. That itself should set alarms off. A panicked spokesperson spilled the beans on the game plan.
Upfront, she has it that the Congress has a Partition repeat up its sleeve – with Rahul Gandhi teaming up with ‘Mussslims’ – said with a hiss or a ‘venomous, contemptuous emphasis’ according to one attendee at the meeting, Farah Naqvi. The Congress plan - we are informed - is to have the BJP blamed for it, keeping up the din as they have on BJP-induced polarization. Rahul Gandhi’s subversion by the ‘Mussslim intellectuals’ was conveniently scooped by an Urdu newspaper. It begs the question as to how - when the conspiracy is in the open – can 1947 repeat itself? With the game up, should not the Congress retire into oblivion; its leader go back to Italy; and ‘Mussslims’ go to Pakistan/bend down/roll over and play dead/walk themselves into gas chambers?
So, it cannot be a Congress-Muslim conspiracy, even if Rahul Gandhi did indeed say ‘the Congress is a Muslim party’. It’s a conspiracy quite like the one hatched in the house of Mani Shankar Aiyar on the eve of Gujarat elections with Pakistanis, at which at least one former army chief was present. Even though the prime minister – the defence minister’s boss – revealed this to the nation, no action followed. Treason allowed to go unpunished? Or, so much for conspiratorial allegations?
If so, where did Nirmala Sitharaman get her talking points for her press conference from? Four years into this government, everyone knows – and successive elections have demonstrated Indians are politically savvy – that a strategy of polarization is underway. The obvious culmination of such strategy is in one-sided violence of the order – as Sitharaman reminds – of 1947. Muslims will have to be forcibly frog-marched off to Pakistan, with the unregistered ones from the ongoing citizens’ register exercise in Assam presumably pushed (back?) into Bangladesh. A god man, Ravi Shankar, has ratted on the plan, referring to the likely reaction by an unnamed community to the impending Supreme Court judgment on the Ayodhya case. Current day lynchings are but a warming up; present day whats app rumours are mere limbering up for a mobilization for the mother-of-all genocides. Nirmala Sitharaman has done a service in having her spokesperson avatar over take her and broadcasting the invite.
Since she heads the defence ministry, the army needs reminding timely that it is the last line of defence. Under circumstances painted by their boss, it may require contemplating what apolitical means. It may require to unilaterally march off in aid of civil authority. It may have to bundle away violence prone Sanghis. It may have to by example and suggestion turn the police and administration back to the constitutional straight and narrow. It will have to disregard illegal orders. It may have to march to an internal tune – one instilled in it in the retelling through the centuries of the Bhagwad Geetha. It would have to hark back to when at mother’s breast it acquainted with the lore of Mahabharat and Ramayan. It would have to ask itself what its icons, Pratap, Ranjit, Shivaji and Chandragupt might have done in the circumstance. It would have to deliver as the last constitutional bastion. Make no mistake, if the madam defence minister succumbs to the spokesperson in her, this nation’s army cannot but let her down.   



Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The army's two impulses in Kashmir

Human rights: Doctrine and departures
By Ali Ahmed
Below is advice for policy makers and Indian army strategists on the website of an armed forces think tank:
‘There is a need to implement few of hardline practices followed by Israel or USA in tackling terrorists. Policy of restraint needs a quick overhaul. SF personnel must have clearly defined rules of engagement in terms of stone throwing public. Collateral damage has to be acceptable in such cases, but a single SF casualty must not be tolerated.’
Superficially, it is merely explicating what the army chief once famously warned: that stone throwers would be taken as ‘over-ground workers of terrorists’ and disposed-off accordingly. The commentator wishes that they form part of ‘collateral damage’ here on, elaborating what the army chief included as the ‘harsh way’ to deal with stone pelting.
While, in light of killings of three stone pelters, including a sixteen year old girl, it is uncertain if the ‘harsh way’ was merely a threat held out or is being implemented, the army chief can be given the benefit of doubt on his assurance that security forces are mindful of ‘people friendly’ rules of engagement. Rawat had claimed, ‘that the SFs (security forces) haven’t been so brutal — look at Syria and Pakistan. They use tanks and air power in similar situations. Our troops have been trying their level best to avoid any civilian casualty despite huge provocation.’
The commentator thus appears to be arguing against his boss’ view that the Indian way is different. The commentator, a former senior fellow at the think tank, instead wishes for a ‘quick overhaul’ of such restraint, now that the elected government in Srinagar has been sent packing and Kashmir is under governor’s rule.
This despite his army chief putting a stop to such hankering with his admonishing that ‘there is nothing such as stepping up … the army continues to operate with formulated rules of engagement.’
Clearly, there are two impulses within Kashmir.
One is the only sensible recourse that makes the army chief proud of the army’s human rights record. Dismissing the recently released report of a UN human rights body, he said that the army’s record is ‘above board’, well known also to Kashmiris. To nevertheless deter stone throwing, he occasionally vents his exasperation in the media on stone throwers, hoping that by repetition to convince Kashmiri youth that being ‘carried away unnecessarily’ after azadi is futile.
The second impulse leads up to references to the ‘harsh way’ being taken rather too seriously, for instance, in the case in which an officer ended up with a first information report lodged against him.
These two impulses have always been incident in Kashmir, and indeed elsewhere in counter insurgency employment. Doctrine is expected to mediate between the two and the doctrinal tenets are to prevail. In this case, the chief appears to be referring to the longstanding doctrine, articulated in 2006 as ‘iron fist in velvet glove’. There is always present the second – perhaps subversive -counter narrative, referred to by the commentator in question as ‘open steel glove policy’. It is always possible for the second to overwhelm the first.
India’s Kashmir record provides instances when this has been so. While the official narrative has always been one of being human rights cognizant in operations, that these have not always been upheld is unfortunately also true.
A couple of extracts from missives dating to the early and mid-nineties from the Unified Headquarters, presided over by an adviser to the governor in J&K, to the security forces operating there is indicative: ‘Attitudinal change must take place. Indian citizens must not be degraded, ill treated or thrashed;’ ‘Merciless beating of one and all during cordon and search operations. At some times such beatings take place in full view of the public.’
The understanding behind such departures from tenet in practice is that perception management, including media management, can cover up. It is no wonder the commentator in question urges, ‘Media management is paramount…’
The counter narrative has a healthy following. Take the case where human rights has been taken seriously and its violation followed to its logical conclusion, that of the firing of about two score bullets into a car that sped past a check point at Budgam, killing its two youngsters. It was not particularly popular, requiring the army commander having to explain the action to his command in a demi-official letter.
Even so, later his prompt redressal action was harangued in a journal of the think tank in question by a former head of that think tank now with the Hindutva-linked India Foundation. The cultural nationalism-inspired criticism implied that the action of the army commander had ‘political considerations’ at heart.    
This reading of the approach to human rights in the army implies that for the army to walk the talk, its commanders need to first be persuaded and must be exert accordingly to sensitise their command. This is easier said than done.
The army has a command culture which is considerably personalized. The tyranny of the confidential report keeps tactical level subordinates responsive to the command climate that the commander puts in place. The operational level commander could well put in place a laissez faire approach, escaping censure by scoring high on the bean count such as on terrorists killed. Since families alienated are not quantified, the army has in such periods settled for tactical success in return for strategic failure.
The phenomenon appears to be recurring. The army chief in his pitch against azadi admitted as much, stating, “These numbers (of militants who are killed in gunbattles with the army) don’t matter to me because I know this cycle will continue. There are fresh recruitments happening.”
It did not occur to the chief that his ill-advised condoning a brazen violation in the ‘human shield’ episode has arguably contributed to militancy continuing into Operation All Out’s second year though the operation accounted for some 225 terrorists.  
It would not do to restrict the focus on the army alone. There are central police forces numbering in the six digits in Kashmir. There is no known doctrine that informs their conduct. It is well known that they have hands-off supervision. It is no secret that khaki-clad leaders such as late EN Rammohan are an exception. At the height of insurgency and its counter, he expressly forbade paramilitary combining in itself the roles of ‘judge, jury and executioner’. A leadership deficit lends itself to human rights short cuts; the most egregious of which is the slothful retention of pellet guns in a day and age of availability of substitutes in plenty and monies to access these.
While differences can be aired on pages of think tank wares, having divergences within the ranks over fundamentals requires greater vigilance in doctrine dissemination and implementation. Doctrinal dissonance cannot be allowed to take any more Kashmiri lives.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018 

Human Rights: All so unfortunately ho-hum
It is entirely understandable that in the role playing that attends the Kashmir conflict the positions of those in authority and that of activists on the mid-June release of the report on the situation of human rights in Kashmir from the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights would be antipodal. It is interesting that even those bearing the mantle of liberals in mainland India have sought to belittle the report. So much so for its case, inter-alia, of over a hundred deaths resulting from excessive use of force against the agitations after the killing of Burhan Wani, quite as many as those in agitations after the Machhil killings episode in 2010. If and since the matter is so well known and for so long, putting it together between covers makes for little excitement here. 

Even as the situation calls for urgent remedial attention (such as trashing pellet guns) as recommended by the report, that this would not be forthcoming is equally clear. The ruling party, fearing its coalition partnership in Kashmir would cost it votes in the soon-to-be-held national elections, ditched its Kashmiri partner. While the army chief stopped at calling the report 'motivated', the ministry of external affairs, went further in shooting the messenger, calling it 'fallacious, tendentious'. To take cognizance of the report's findings would be to admit to wrong doing, which obviously India would not like to. As mentioned at a place in the report - on the lack of compensation for the victim of the human shield incident since compensating him would be to admit to violating his rights - the report will be forgotten soon enough. 

There is little human rights appetite in India, particularly when the national security narrative over-lays. This was true in the nineties and appears to hold true twenty years down the line. Many believe that India is doing the best it can under the circumstance of an externally sponsored proxy war. To most, things are not as bad as they might have been, with nothing of the sort as has been undertaken by other militaries being replicated in India, such as in Afghanistan, Iraq, and even in the areas along the Durand Line. It has a professional military. Though this cannot also be said of its paramilitary, the assumption is that these forces are under police officers who are thoroughly under the thumb of their civilian bureaucratic and political masters. Nothing more can be demanded from poorly equipped forces, especially as one whistle blower in a social media outreach to the public let on are also ill fed. 

Many also believe that security forces are severely challenged, by jihadists on the one hand and a complicit public intent on supporting jihadists escape security forces' dragnets. While for some there is ill intent behind instances such as drivers of security forces vehicles seemingly mowing down protestors (twice captured on amateur camera this year), for others the pressures at the scene of stone throwing lead to pardonable over-reaction not warranting punishment for such perpetrators. The wider Indian public appears willing to give the benefit of doubt to the security force trooper on ground, doing what it sees as inescapable dirty work, the dirtiness being attributed to its nefarious neighbour. 

Finally, the Leetul Gogois - men on ground - are not alone responsible for violations. Recall, Major Gogoi was facilitated by his army chief for his innovative move to use a human shield. As to whether he has since been disciplined by the army for sexual exploitation of a vulnerable women in a conflict zone is unknown. It can be inferred that the laxity of the chain of command that translates as permissiveness is also to blame. The chain of command does not stop at the military apex. It ends at the civilian - political - level, advised by the bureaucratic. Since this level has not been exercised by human rights issue, it is either sanguine of the 'above board' record (as per the army chief) or is willing to look the other way. Both are likely. Not only is the civilian leadership held accountable through democratic or judicial means but would prefer to see human rights as untroubling. To take a dim view of human rights would require it to act. This it would not be willing to do since it would be take responsibility. The current situation in which the security forces are blamed is preferable. 

For instance, one of the key recommendations of all human rights feedback reports - such as the one under discussion - is the need for either the impunity conferred by the armed forces special powers' act being rolled back or the prosecution of offenders be granted on a case by case basis by the authorities. The current report brings out that though requested fifty times, the central government has turned down the request of the state government forty-seven times, while three cases are under decision. This consistency owes to an unwillingness on part of the civilian side (politicians and their bureaucratic advisers) to bell the cat thereafter. There is a belief that this would demoralize security forces, leading to the military leadership passing the buck to the civilian side. It is no secret that the civilians are both ignorant and inefficient. They would be a disaster in hands on security management. They therefore need to have the security force leadership up front. A tacit bargain ensues in which civilians look the other way while security forces soldier on without political resolution in sight. 

As for judicial means of accountability, the judiciary is snowed under to begin with. The report brings out the fate of cause célèbre cases such as the Kunan Poshpora incident and the letting off on bail of custodial killers in the Machhil killings case by the armed forces tribunal. The latter case was one in which the military court to the credit of the enlightened military leadership then in place went the distance. Other questionable cases, such as the Pathribal one, had the judicial intent in its enabling a choice for the army to try the accused being waylaid by the army in a deliberately botched military judicial follow up. That the court has not had the case reopened indicates the sway of the national security imperative over the judiciary's levels of commitment to truth and justice. 

To end on an anecdotal note, the Kunan Poshpora case was among the backdrop to an exchange in the early nineties in the letters to the editor column of the military's counter insurgency journal between this author and the brigade commander of the outfit that was implicated in the Kunan Poshpora case. The brigadier in an article had written up his command philosophy in which as a factor aiding success he had it that formation commanders refrain from accompanying troops on operations. To him, lesser checks led to a force multiplier of greater initiative by junior leaders. He advocated healthy rivalry between units through publicity and quantification of weapons recovered etc. I had in a letter to the editor opined that the competition and quantification could lead to ends justifying the means since the name of the unit would be at stake. In his rejoinder the brigadier argued that the formation commander must not breathe down the neck of junior leaders in the conduct stage and concentrate instead on creating the ethos and discipline conducive to counter insurgency operations. The editor in his comment agreed with the brigadier. It is ironical that despite the brigadier's faith in small team operations over large operations, the eddies from a night search operation - against extant orders in the corps zone then - by a unit under his command continue a quarter century later.  (The brigadier later as a major general died in an unfortunate helicopter accident in the north east.)
The book is the first of a new series, The Global Middle East, with the author being one of the two general editors of the series. The series seeks to broaden the horizon of the ‘Middle East’ to range from the Atlantic to the subcontinent, and to include the diaspora originating from these lands living in the West, besides introducing authors and ideas from the region to the Anglophone academy. The author, currently Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, is also holding the Chair of Iranian studies at the London Middle East Institute. He sets the bar high for the series by focusing on psycho-nationalism in Iran; with psycho-nationalism loosely defined here as the psychological roots of national identity.
Adib-Moghaddam examines the manner in which the Iranian governments earlier under the Shah and latterly under the clerics have utilized psychological dynamics in the making (creating, sustaining and selling) of the Iranian ‘nation’.
[ihc-hide-content ihc_mb_type=”show” ihc_mb_who=”reg” ihc_mb_template=”1″ ]While the Shahs reached back into a pre-Islamic past, to the age of Iranian superpowerdom under Darius and Cyrus, to legitimize their rule, post-revolutionary Iran has emphasized its Shiite heritage, which interestingly does not go as far back into the Islamic age as a reader unfamiliar with the details of Iranian and Islamic history might have imagined.
The book is thus very timely, since its examination of the Iranian case is instructive for the times we live in, when across the world there has been a lurch to the Right. Arshin begins his book with a synoptic view of the trend towards populism, including in the United States exemplified by the campaign-winning slogan ‘making America great again’. He notes that the case of Iran has escaped closer scrutiny in the study of ‘the way the idea a nation-state is created and sustained’ (p. 3). Arshin sets about the task to ‘understand conceptually how the idea of Iran created, in order to understand the mechanisms and effects of psycho-nationalist discourse’ (p. 4).
An upshot of the exercise is that the phenomenon of the nation-state has not come into existence through a process that is distinctly ‘modern’, but, as Arshin demonstrates, there are ‘“nationalized” entities in antiquity’ (p. 9), such as the Sassanid Iran (pp. 224-651) that had its own sense of nationhood comprising, as modern nations do, a religious (Zoroastrian) narrative, symbolic capitol (Ctesiphon), language and a Persian-centric ethno-ideology. It was only the absence of mass communication techniques available in the modern age (the printing press, for instance) that led to difficulties in sustaining the nation.
A signal insight from the book is that ‘where there is bio-power, there is also resistance, and where there is psycho-nationalism, there is opposition’ (p. 11). He draws on Michel’s Foucault’s term for mature forms of mind control of people, ‘bio-political’. Through a look at the intrusive ideological education intended to increase penetrability of the population to psychological control, he lays out how the techniques have failed to extend the sovereignty of the state by turning ‘citizens into objects of power’ (p. 11). There continues to be in Iran, as elsewhere, resistance to state-engineered psycho-nationalism.
States routinely exploit the ‘grey zone’ between affinities of belonging and hegemonic emotions that underlie national aggression. The latter find an arena in global politics through narcissistic and hubristic self-assertion by the in-group. Internally, psycho-nationalism is ‘division-creating’, averse to complexity and dissent, and but a sophisticated form of ‘divide and rule’. This leads at best to creation of a ‘quasi nation’. Arshin singles out psycho-nationalism for ‘what it does not do: integrate, ameliorate, harmonise, assimilate’ (p. 19). In Iran, clerically-ordered nationalism, and that of the Shah before it, has not subdued the struggle for freedom based on a narrative infused with cosmopolitanism, tolerance, liberal, secular and inclusive values.
Arshin’s conclusion bears repeating for its resonance in our part of the world abutting Iran: ‘The real meaning of the country cannot be found in discourse, institutions or national anthems. It is the everyday life of Iranians (or Indians for that matter—added) that is real, it is the trials and tribulations of our daily affairs that give any nation its real meaning and purpose. Everything else is concocted for the nefarious purpose of political power’ (p. 19). The book can help readers in India better understand not only Iran as any Iran-centric book must, but also incidentally what is happening closer home in the invention of a new India, no longer secular or plural, and (increasingly) not democratic either.
Just as in Iran, there is dissent in democratic churnings, for instance, on campuses across the country, as the cultural nationalist narrative attempts to homogenize India into a peculiar image of a Semitic Hinduism. India’s democratic spaces seem better preserved since political power was not in their exclusive hands earlier. However, with the Modi wave and the likelihood of perpetuation of his tenure suggests that the political power that is needed to advance psycho-nationalism is finally with the pseudo-cultural formations over the long haul. This means the Iranian experience can be replicated here and on that count is potentially instructive. If Indians are not enamoured by the siren song of psycho-nationalism, they can be bludgeoned into submission. Iran’s external relations showcase how a nation-state is constructed in international politics in terms of aggression towards the ‘other’, which in the case of saffronized India is its twin, Pakistan.
By the yardstick of applicability of his thinking elsewhere, Arshin reveals that his designation as Professor of ‘global thought’ is with good reason. He reinforces the conception of a nation as a social construct, as an imagined entity, rather than having a primordial basis. His academic immersion in critical Iranian studies releases Iran from confessional and nationalistic narratives, placing ‘Iran as a global idea and Iran in the middle of the crossroads of identities, a central focal point in a common human experience’ (p. 155). This is almost a description of India, where the readership of this journal predominantly resides. That knowing more of one’s neighbour makes one know oneself better is good enough reason to read the book.