Friday, 31 May 2019

EPW articles

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The Modi Era

The influence of Hindutva in political culture on India’s strategic culture has been traced. It has resulted in a hardening of strategic culture with the bias towards the offensive also resulting from the military’s organisational culture that has been independently penetrated by Hindutva. But, a strategic doctrine of compellence is combustible, and the retraction of Hindutva from polity is a prerequisite for stability.

Army’s Robustness in Aid of Civil Authority

When the army is called in aid of civil authority, robust action taken by the army in a timely manner can prevent civil disturbance from exacting a strategic cost. The recent revelations on army inaction in the critical first 24 hours during the Gujarat carnage in 2002 are examined.

Modi at the Helm

Nuclear decision-making, when examined at the institutional and individual levels, suggests that India’s case is fraught with shortcomings. This adds to the complications for regional security, already present on account of Pakistan’s nuclear decision-making being military dominated. The aggravated institutional infirmities of India’s nuclear decision-making structures and the authoritarian tendencies in India’s primary nuclear decision-maker, the Prime Minister, heighten nuclear dangers in future crises and conflicts.

The Doval Scorecard

As the ruling party at the centre, the Bharatiya Janata Party, contemplates the forthcoming national elections, its record on national security warrants a review. The key player in crafting and implementing its national security strategy has been National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. An examination of Doval’s record over the past four years reveals that his principal contribution has been in facilitating national security interests to be held hostage to the electoral calculus of the Narendra Modi–Amit Shah combine.

The Missing Muslim Army Officers

The representation of Muslims in the army officer corps, at around 2%, is abysmal in contrast to their percentage in the population of India. Diversity is also compromised in the army, with over half of army officers hailing from a handful of north Indian states. This deficit of diversity along social and geographical lines has negative implications for the army’s apolitical and secular credentials.

The Kashmir Charade This Winter

The ill-planned and hurried appointment of an interlocutor for Kashmir by the government, supposedly for a sustained dialogue, does not suggest that the government is serious about resolving the Kashmir conflict. The initiative, however, appears to want to hold the United States at bay, which needs India and Pakistan talking to safeguard its Afghan engagement. The interlocutor’s mission will likely turn out to be yet another wasted opportunity in Kashmir.

Dilating on a ‘Half-front War’

The reference to a “two and a half front war” by Army Chief General Bipin Rawat is critically dissected. The “half front” apparently covers large tracts of India and a significant number of its marginalised people. The thought of a war on the half front, as conjured by this term, needs to be controverted outright. The army’s imagining of such a war and preparation for it is questioned.

A Disjointed Doctrine

The recently released joint doctrine of the armed forces outlines the manner in which they expect to fight the next war. Though the doctrine suggests “decisive victory” is possible, it bears reminding that the closer they get to this the closer would be the nuclear threshold. Since the doctrine does not dwell on the nuclear level, it cannot be said that the doctrine makes India any safer. However, the doctrine’s take on civil–military relations is far more interesting.

Corrosive Impact of Army’s Commitment in Kashmir

The army has had an extended deployment in Kashmir. While it has enabled operational experience for its members, there is a danger that the advantages of this can make the army acquire a stake in the disturbed conditions. This makes the army part of the problem in Kashmir. Its deployment is not without a price in regard to the internal good health of the army.

India's Strategic Shift

In abandoning strategic restraint in favour of strategic proactivism, India is transiting from a strategic doctrine of offensive deterrence to compellence. This is not without its dangers since the military doctrines of India and Pakistan are presently coupled in a volatile way. Moving towards proactivism makes them altogether combustible. This makes the strategic logic of the shift suspect, prompting speculations as to its inspiration.

War and What To Do About It

A case for the peace lobby to continue its engagement with anti-war issues, even in times of relative peace. The military doctrines are geared for a quick war, resulting in shorter crisis windows. Therefore, keeping the public informed and capitalising on such preparations for ensuring moderation in strategic decisions in crises and war can prove useful when push comes to shove. This would be an uphill task, but inescapable for war avoidance and limitation.

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Nuclear Retaliation Options

The debate on nuclear retaliation options has been hijacked by realists, with even the liberal security perspective marginalised. Engagement with the issue by nuclear abolitionists is called for, lest the impression of a consensus develops around the realist offering of "unacceptable damage" that promises nothing but genocide, a global environmental disaster and national suicide in its wake.

Yoga as a Prelude to Politicisation of the Military

Drawing on the news reporting of the army's association with Ramdev's organisation for yoga training, a discussion on the potential and possibility of politicisation of the military with Hindutva philosophy.

No First Use Nuclear Policy

That India's No First Use policy is under threat of the axe in any future review of the nuclear doctrine is apparent from the election time controversy over the mention of a nuclear doctrinal review in the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The reference - subsequently toned down - was possibly an attempt by the conservative party to live up to its image as a strategically assertive replacement of the Congress Party.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Unedited version

Admittedly, what follows is wishful. Nevertheless, with the Election Commission of India felled and the Supreme Court betraying signs of doddering, it is important to preserve the last institution standing, the military, from the New (Ugly) India.
The timely discussion on politicization of the military witnessed at election time suggests that the priority of the incoming defence minister (not known at the time of writing) would be to invigorate the military’s professional, secular and apolitical standing.
The danger is in the mandating of the minister to disregard or, worse, devalue these two-hundred year old facets.
Musical chairs attended the appointment over the past five years, with one incumbent bravely battling a major ailment, a second moonlighting at another major portfolio while also battling health issues, and the third split between being minister and party mouthpiece.
None of the three could see, leave alone prevail, on their more politically inclined colleagues to leave the military alone. Even though precedence suggests another weak minister is in the offing, even so, it is worth reminding the minister that in the cabinet system the buck stops at her door.
At the outset, the minister is must be warned that she is starting off with a deficit. The strong-on-defence claim of the ruling party is buoyed by hot-wind. Bluntly put, India came out second best in the optics surrounding the Balakot-Naushera episode. While information war is a major front, spin-doctoring cannot substitute for the real thing. Worse is if policy makers believe their own propaganda output.
Course correction requires being mindful of the three inter-twined facets that have been under threat - if not assault – over the past five years.
Professionalism has taken a beating in the government’s elevating the third in line for chiefship of the army over two of his seniors (if not betters) on account of his expertise in a secondary role of the army, counter insurgency.
No recourse to management and organizational theory is necessary to discern that - taking cue - there would be a scramble in the brass to demonstrate their showing in countering insurgency. For example, a colonel’s brief author-bio at the end of his article in a service journal highlights his 17 years in Kashmir. Such bias might have diluted its ability in its primary role, conventional warmaking.
Even so, the defence minister must ensure the winner in the pack is one not one cottoning the means and methods recounted in the recently released report by two non-governmental organizations in Jammu and Kashmir, Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir.
On secularism, illustrations may better prove the threat. An extract from a book on ancient warrior culture published by a regimental press reads: ‘(there were) four types of flying machines, including instructions for its construction and pilot training. Based on these instructions, fly-worthy machine was reportedly reconstructed by a native ….’*.  The former general officer who authored this installed the statue of the goddess of learning in the Valmiki Library when he in his time in uniform headed that joint services institution.
While cultural nationalism has now been indubitably mainstreamed by voters, making tracts as above par for the course, the new defence minister should not throw the baby of secularism out with the bathwater.
Societal debate as to the extent Hinduism and Hindutva are congruent and the extent to which these define New India is underway. The military needs cauterizing from the effects till the electorate rules on the results of New India five years downstream.
As for the third – apolitical – facet, it is cannot any longer be taken as self-evident. Take the case of the unnecessary upping of the ante in Kashmir after the last round of elections there resulting in 14 militants dead in short order. Even if the zest accounted for the Al Qaeda affiliated top-gun there, does this heightened operational tempo not bespeak of a military attuned to the political breeze?
The Northern Army commander – supposedly in line for next chief – reprised, albeit after voting finished, the line put out by the operations directorate that there were no surgical strikes prior to September 2016 since it had no records of prior such actions. Is the military unmindful of the political context to the discussion on surgical strikes? Should the army commander be points-scoring over his predecessor’s line to the contrary, adopted by an opposition party?
In case the military has been put to it in both cases cited, then it should have the savvy to ‘shirk’ in civil-military theoretical jargon (dither and duck) or the backbone to stand up and ask the conveying authority of the political plank in both cases (likely the national security adviser (NSA)) to lay off.
A minister needs to have a reassuring presence. It is not for the military to battle the trickle down of political compulsions. A minister needs being possessive about her ministerial turf. It is not a part time job, nor is it confined to managing the civilian side of military matters alone.
Inability in incumbents so far has led to the NSA system - fattened on proximity to the prime minister’s office - to lay into the military using the prime minister’s shoulders at the first address of the prime minster at the combined commanders’ conference. Lack of traction on the speech by end of the first Modi term led to the NSA muscling in on the reins that appropriately should have been with the minister and a chief of defence staff.
The minister’s first call would be to wrest back the reins. She must  step up and reenergize the cabinet system of ministerial accountability. That the Congress manifesto had something sensible to say on institutionalizing the national security council system does not mean it cannot be appropriated. (After all, if Imran Khan’s slogan Naya Pakistan can be appropriated for New India, so can a leaf from a fallen foe’s book!)
A change of NSA would be useful alongside, with candidates aplenty. For instance, there is the former foreign secretary, S. Jaishakar, who held his own while holding the confidence of his political minders.
This would be precautionary buffeting of national security from arbitrary decision making, witnessed multiple times, for example, at demonetization and in the comical rationale (the radar-cloud relationship) to the Balakot decision.
The more significant matter is however likelihood of the military being next port of call for ideological and institutional reshaping by Hindutva.
The first term witnessed a subtle way of doing so. For instance, when the late former minister visited a leading military school in Dehra Dun, he took along with him the ideologue, Tarun Vijay. What the outcome was is not known, but this time round the right wing will be out to take over the only remaining institutional space in the country.
One way to keep watch is with an eye on veterans with known right-wing predilections. Keeping them off professional discussion rooms is one way, even if they manage a foot in the door for their sponsors via social media.
A simple measure could be a conference of editors of the military’s in-house publications in which editorial ethics are revised. Such a measure would keep instances, such as, in one case, of advocacy for depriving immigrants voting rights in the north east, and, in another case, reference to terrorism as an ‘Islamic’ way of war, despite twenty years even though a better substitute, ‘Islamist’, has been part of strategic glossary some twenty years now.  
The incoming minister needs being cautioned to insure against beclouding of the military’s patriotism with the ruling party’s potion on nationalism. History will judge the minister by her showing on this. As a sweetner, she may be reassured that only with the military instrument remaining professional, will she be able to deliver successfully on any muscular policy her boss chooses to adopt,
*Aiyengar, SRR (2018): Timeless ethos of the Indian warrior, Jabalpur: Grenadiers Association Printing Press.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The Modi Era

Impact on Strategic Culture

The influence of Hindutva in political culture on India’s strategic culture has been traced. It has resulted in a hardening of strategic culture with the bias towards the offensive also resulting from the military’s organisational culture that has been independently penetrated by Hindutva. But, a strategic doctrine of compellence is combustible, and the retraction of Hindutva from polity is a prerequisite for stability. 
This column was written before the election results were announced.
The author would like to thank Kajari Kamal for comments that helped improve the article.
It is by now a trite observation that a change in India’s political culture has been wrought over the past three decades, dated variously to Indira Gandhi’s religiosity on display in the Jammu belt in the run-up to assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir in the early 1980s, or to Lal Krishna Advani setting off on his rath yatra in 1990. The nomination of a terror-accused “sadhvi,” Pragya Singh Thakur, as a parliamentary candidate by the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is emblematic as a culmination of this trend. The BJP’s impact with a parliamentary majority for the first time in three decades is liable to leave behind an unmistakable ­saffron imprint on India’s body politic (Arun 2019), and if it stays on in power, it would prove an indelible one.
The change in question is a marked shift rightwards beyond the traditionally-conceived conservative segment of the political spectrum under the impact of the political ideology of cultural nationalism—Hindutva—adhered to by the BJP. The Hindutva project is to create and convert a religious majority into a parliamentary majority (Noorani 2019: 27). Both dimensions of the project—the societal and political—are mutually reinforcing and have registered success over the past three decades. Even though a Supreme Court verdict of 1995 elevates it to “a way of life,” in practice, the term Hindutva now symbolises what to the Court it was not: “narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry” (Hindu 2016). Majoritarianism subscribed to by the Sangh Parivar—of which the BJP is the political front (Noorani 2019: 100–08)—is now a feature of political culture. An indicator is the invisiblisation of India’s largest minority, the Muslims (Mustafa 2017). Even the opposition party, the Congress, has been unwilling to chance the Hindu vote by projecting itself as a secular alternative and has instead settled for so-called soft Hindutva, symbolised by the temple-hopping engaged in by its leadership.
Hindutva and Strategic Culture
What has been the effect of the seeding of political culture by Hindutva on India’s strategic culture? The cultural space can be imagined as three layers, namely political culture, strategic culture and organisational culture. Political culture includes “commitment to values like democratic principles and institutions, ideas about morality and the use of force, the rights of individuals and collectives, or predispositions toward the role of a country in global politics” (Lantis 2002: 90). Strategic culture is the ideational milieu setting pervasive strategic preferences based on widely held concepts of roles and the efficacy of use of force in political affairs (Johnston 1995: 46). Political culture provides the top-down context for strategic culture—sometimes referred to as political–military culture—and feeds into creating and sustaining it, alongside a bottom-up influence of organisational culture of the military (Kier 1997).
While multiple cultures can exist in society, control of the political–military authority and apparatus of the state may render a subculture dominant and more influential (Duffied 1999: 778). Being the ruling party helps ease and expand the scope of such influence. A change in political culture has a corresponding influ­ence on strategic culture. This is multiplied if the political culture has an impact on the organisational culture through penetration of cultural artefacts and tropes, opening up an indirect bottom-up route to further make an impact on strategic culture. The political–cultural ferment with majoritarian nationalism as driver has been active over an appreciable duration of three decades. It is reasonable to infer that strategic culture—taken in theory as resilient and slow-to-change (Lantis 2002: 109–10)—has not escaped impact.
Besides, the incidence of majoritarian lines of thinking in strategic literature is such that it can be taken as having made inroads into the military’s organisational culture, thereby enhancing the impact on strategic culture. The rightwing has an insidious presence across intellectual spaces to hollow out institutions; the military cannot be an exception. Its influence on the military’s organisational culture has been largely through the writings by elements in the veteran community perched in right-wing think tanks in the internal publications of the military, echoed in part by unwary serving officers in such publications and on social media (Ahmed 2016). While not elaborated here it can also be asserted that the inflection in strategic and military professional literature of Hindutva trope calls out for an academic study as was done by Christine Fair of the presence of political Islamic thinking in the Pakistani army (Ahmed nd). The election-time controversy over the politicisation of the military is a pointer of worries within the military (Peri 2019).
Strategic culture, in turn, provides the setting and impetus for strategic doctrine, the approach to use of force that ranges across the continuum: defensive, deterrent, offensive, compellent (Posen 1984: 14). Elizabeth Kier (1995: 67), a key participant in the academic debate in the 1990s on the impact of culture on security, elaborated the manner in which organisational culture mediates the influence of political culture on military doctrine. Strategic doctrine can be inferred from strategic behaviour. A hardening of strategic culture has resulted in the strategic doctrine moving from a strategy of restraint to strategic proactivism (Ahmed 2016). Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his electioneering referred to strategic conduct in the surgical strikes of September 2016 that succeeded the Uri terror attack in the same month, the aerial strike at Balakot undertaken in the wake of the Pulwama car bomb incident in February 2019, the resulting stand-off—described by Modi as “qatl ki raat” (night of slaughter), referring to the reported activation of missiles sites (Hindu 2019)—and the anti-satellite test in March. India appears poised to undertake coercion of Pakistan. This locates India in between the offensive and deterrent ­segment. However, offensive–compellent is but a step away.
In a nutshell, political culture with Hindutva as a principal ingredient has had an impact on strategic culture towards strategic self-assertion. Organisational culture has also been separately impacted, through penetration of cultural nationalist thinking, thereby making it receptive to changes in strategic culture. This explains the offensive content in the strategic doctrine—offensive–compellent—reflected in offensive military doctrines. Drawing back entails a dilution of Hindutva agenda as a prerequisite.
Politics of Strategy
Hindutva, as a driver of change in political culture, contends that India has to overcome its millennia-old aversion to the use of force. The image of Hinduism as an accommodative and heterogeneous faith has to be rescinded in favour of a militant, unified religion (Noorani 2019: 101–05). A simple illustration is the recent macho depiction of Lord Hanuman (Bhatia 2018) in images and art.
This approach is reflected in strategic behaviour in a heightened threshold of retaliation to Pakistani provocations firming in. In case Modi is re-elected, he is liable to be hemmed in by a commitment trap of election-time rhetoric. Zero-tolerance, the very first manifesto promise (BJP 2019: 11), requires terrorism to be “paid back in the same coin, with compound interest” (BJP 2019: 3), colourfully put by Modi as “ghar me ghus ke maarenge” (forcible house entry) (Times of India 2019), evoking a dialogue from an eponymous film on the Uri surgical strikes. The use of force is also liable to be higher since the information war over the Balakot–Naushera episode has obscured whe­ther India did indeed get the better of Pakistan.
Even if a different government is formed, the necessity to “mow the grass” occasioned either by periodic provocation or to end Pakistani impunity, is now common sense. India has evidently learnt from its key strategic partner. Retired general D S Hooda (2019: 12), to whom the Congress turned to help gird up its national security image, tendered a report reinforcing the policy on cross-border operations. Modi’s overplaying the card at election time forced the Congress to claim it oversaw six such strikes—though the military operations branch denied having any record of the same (India Today2019).
The response to terror provocations at the interstices of the sub-conventional–conventional level has long been reckoned as viable. A Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI 2010: 48) report back in 2010 had dwelt on surgical strikes. Pakistan’s nuc­lear awning, based on tactical nuclear weapons, is not designed to cover the lower portion of the escalation ladder. India did not respond sternly earlier, since no terror attacks warranted such response, testifying to the success of the post 26/11 strategy of restraint. Shiv­shankar Menon, who was party to the decision as foreign secretary, retrospectively surmises that, “the decision makers concluded that more was to be gained from not attacking Pakistan than from attacking it” (Menon 2016: 62). Menon rightly reminds that the world economy was then in the midst of an “unprecedented financial crisis” (Menon: 64).
In contrast, the BJP has been only too keen to derive political mileage out of military action, taking advantage of the diversionary effect to paper over concerns regarding its performance on issues such as farmer distress, employment, etc (Indian Express 2019). Though it took care to set restrictive parameters to the Balakot aerial strike—leaving out civilians and the Pakistani military from potential target lists (PTI 2019)—this laudable precaution in the event mattered little. The Pakistani counterstrike makes for a combustible mix in the future.
It is with reason that D S Hooda (2019: 12) in his version of the national security doctrine calls for being wary of the risk of escalation. Modi was willing to run this risk, ready to chance a missile exchange merely for influencing the release of a downed pilot.
Clearly, the BJP marches to a different tune than a “normal” conservative party. The BJP’s political interest supersedes the national interest since it is charged with state capture. The aim is a majoritarian democracy, shifting the constitutional goalposts from civic nationalism to ethno-religious nationalism (Economic Times 2017). The Pakistan angle helps generate hyper-nationalism and militarism (Ayoob 2019), deflecting Hinduism from its civilisational moorings (Tharoor 2018: 209–10).
Retracting from the Brink
The strategic cultural shift towards an assertive India has long been in the making. The continuity owes to the rule of the Congress as it remained fearful of being outflanked by the BJP for being soft on security. As a result it continued with the strategic trajectory set in the National Democratic Alliance’s first term (1999–2004). An example of like-mindedness in national security perspectives is seen in the omission of Hindutva terrorism by the national security adviser in the first United Progressive Alliance’s period in his post-retirement ref­lections on terrorism (Narayanan 2019). This is indicative of a pervasive bias in strategic culture, attributable to the Hindutva-generated cloud over Indian Muslims. Hence, it is an evidence of the genuflection of strategic culture to political culture.
The Indian strategic cultural discourse echoes the right-wing thesis of Indian effeteness. This impels the military’s approbation of strategic assertion through surgical strikes and is manifested in its doctrinal products valuing proactivism and the offensive. This places India in harm’s way. The Pulwama–Balakot–Naushera episode should sensitise the region to dangers ahead.
An electoral verdict enabling crystallisation of the political culture along Hindutva lines is liable to push strategic culture towards compellence. There is also the bogeyman of Akhand Bharat, an up-­stream element of the Hindutva project. The backstory to a radioactive denouement is the mainstreaming of Hindutva into political culture. If the electoral verdict is against Hindutva, the opportunity must be used by the incoming government to insulate political culture and cauterise strategic culture by bottling up Hindutva.

Ahmed, Ali (2016): “India’s Strategic Shift: From Restraint to Proactivism,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 51, No 48, pp 10–12.
— (2017): “The Dark Side of the Army’s Social Media Groups,” Tribune, 2 March,
Arun, T K (2019): “How India’s Politics Has Changed over the Last Five Years,” Economic Times,15 May,
Ayoob, Mohammad (2019): “Is the Future of Indian Democracy Secure?,” Hindu, 17 May,
Bhatia, Sidharth (2018): “Art Appreciation Modi Style,” Wire, 8 May,
BJP (2019): “Sankalp Patra: Lok Sabha 2019,”
Duffield, John S (1999): “Political Culture and State Behavior: Why Germany Confounds Neo-realism,” International Organisation, Vol 53, No 4, Autumn, pp 765–803.
Economic Times (2017): “Hamid Ansari Pitches for Liberal Nationalism,” 14 February, //
FICCI (2010): Task Force Report on National Security and Terrorism, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, New Delhi.
Hindu (2016): “Hindutva at the Hustings,” 27 October,
— (2019): “On Home Pitch, Modi Bowls the ‘National Security’ Line,” 21 April,
Hooda, D S (2019): “India’s National Security Strategy,” March,
India Today (2019): “In RTI Reply, Centre Says No Records of Surgical Strikes during Upa Regime,” 7 May,
Johnston, Alastair I (1995): “Thinking about Strategic Culture,” International Security, Vol 19, No 4, pp 32–64.
Kier, Elizabeth (1995): “Culture and Military Doctrine: France between the Wars,” International Security, Vol, 19 No 4, Spring.
— (1997): Imagining War: French and Military Doctrine between the Wars, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Lantis, Jeffrey S (2002): “Strategic Culture and National Security Policy,” International Studies Review, Vol 4, No 3, pp 87–113.
Menon, Shivshankar (2016): Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Mustafa, Seema (2017): “The Invisibilization of Muslims,” Citizen, 13 December,
Narayanan, M K (2019): “The Many and Different Faces of Terror,” Hindu, 3 April,
Noorani, Abdul Ghafoor (2019): RSS: A Menace to the India, New Delhi: LeftWord Books.
Peri, Dinakar (2019): “More Veterans Oppose ‘Politicisation’ of Army,” Hindu, 14 April,
Posen, Barry (1984): The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, Germany between the Wars, London: Cornell University Press.
PTI (2019): “No Pak Soldier or Civilian Died in Balakot: Sushma Swaraj,” Hindu, 19 April,
Tharoor, Shashi (2018): Why I Am a Hindu, New Delhi: Aleph.
Times of India (2019): “Ghar me Ghus ke Maarenge, PM Modi Warns Terrorist Outfits,” 5 March,­­i­­­­­nterest&utm_medium=text&utm_cam­pai­gn=cppst.