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.