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Thursday, November 28, 2013

By Firdaus Ahmed
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It would be entirely fair to intuitively answer the question, 'Are some strategists communal?', affirmatively. There is no longer any field that has not seen the penetration of communal forces in India. The whole project of the Hindutva brigade over the past century has been to take over India from the inside. This they have admirably succeeded in doing, not due to any intrinsic merits of their own, but more due to the partial complicity of the Congress party, itself deprived of any vision since the departure of Nehru. It is therefore inevitable to find communal forces in the seminar rooms of the strategic circuit. 

That said it must be admitted that their presence is not easy to detect. The esoteric vocabulary used in discussions of security affairs enables them to hide behind a fa├žade as conservative thinkers. Since conservatism and realism are in a tight embrace in security studies in general, being conservative-realist is perfectly legitimate. This school of thought - incidentally the dominant school in international politics - enables the communalist sanctuary, keeping their extremist inspiration in religious supremacism, sometimes mistaken as 'cultural nationalism', largely in the closet. There is a case to not only to expose them, but also to oust them intellectually since they currently stand poised to take over the strategic space with the possible ascent of their gladiator in the political ring to power in 2014, Narendra Modi.

Admitting that subjectivity tends to inform professional judgment is only to acknowledge the human condition that renders academic objectivity only an ideal. Consequently, traces of ideology can be expected to be visible in advocacy. It is possible in certain instances the familial experience of Partition may be operative. Their advocacy then needs being taken as motivated. Currently, the conservative-realists benefit by the presence of their more ideologically inclined fellow travellers and are insensitive to this influence. It helps them in their intellectual fights with the liberal-rationalists. While most conservative-realists are secular and their strategic positions well secured sustainable strategic argument, they are oblivious to their inability to detect and evict the ideological canker in their midst. It is only a matter of time that they will be disabused of their illusions; and much to their surprise. The problem is that this awakening could well be left till too late.

The effort here is therefore to highlight the influence of Hindutvavadis in the strategic community with an aim to prevent their contamination of the policy space. Already that is the case. In the policing of the seminar rooms, they have succeeded in marginalising liberal-secular voices who have been relegated to 'activists' from the 'higher' perch of 'strategists'. It is now impermissible to question dominant narratives without bonafides being called into question and the 'anti national' epithet finding its way into the conversation. Their influence, combined with and purveyed by their conservative realist accomplices, has led to 'Indian' strategic culture being defined in a particular way. The consequence is in an advocacy, to which the state is proving responsive, of over-turning a millennium of subjugation to 'foreigners' - a period that includes the Muslim presence in India. 

Take for instance the advocacy for 'massive punitive retaliation' in case of nuclear first use by Pakistan. The formulation has eminent pedigree, with strategic heavy weights espousing it. However, their advocacy was informed by strategic insight and sound deterrent logic. The problem is that since their doing so about two decades back there has been an increasing possibility of nuclear first use in conflict. Pakistan threatens tactical nuclear use in case of Indian conventional attack. The latter is very likely as response to a mega terror attack. Resulting nuclear escalation could be witnessed. It is here the extremists come into their own as avid defenders of the 'massive punitive retaliation' logic. They believe that while India will survive, Pakistan will be finished. While for nuclear wonks this only serves a deterrent purpose, their ideologically informed counter parts can hardly conceal their glee when they highlight this asymmetry in nuclear punishment between the two states. 'Wiped off the map', 'cease to exist' etc are the revelatory phrases to watch out for in such writings. That India will be grievously wounded, if not fatally so, to them is not a cause for self-deterrence: self-deterrence being a sign of 'weakness' that needs excision from the Indian (read Hindu) mind and culture. It is no wonder there is a thrust for the 'bigger (thermo-nuclear) bang' since the last one turned out a 'fizzle'. 

At the conventional level, their engagement is with use of conventional forces imaginatively in order to undercut Pakistani nuclear threat and avenge terror attacks utilising India's conventional advantage. While this is ordinarily understandable and is a favoured pastime of the military for instance, what distinguishes those with communal propensities is an avidness to get back at Pakistan and a pronounced blindside to India's vulnerabilities and the dangers of doing so. To them exercise of Indian strategic maturity, such as in restricting operations on this side of the Line of Control during the Kargil episode and maintaining strategic restraint in the face of the Mumbai terror attack, are signs of Indian pusillanimity. Such 'weakness' is to be exorcised in a bloody tryst, the end of which sees Pakistan felled. The favoured phrases are 'taking the battle to the enemy', 'decisive victory', 'proactive', 'offensive' etc. 

It is in sub-conventional discussions that they are easiest to spot. While force is an intrinsic part of a state's repertoire against a challenge to its monopoly of force, it is widely accepted that the exercise of such force has to be cognisant of the law. The realists would employ the argument that not doing so will only exacerbate a state's predicament. The communalists on the other hand go a step further. They wish to use force to demonstrate the state's power and overawe those so subject to its power and glory. They accuse that anything less is debilitating for the forces; the 'one hand tied behind the back' thesis. Their reification of the state as an embodiment of cultural power narrowly defined makes even a secular challenge to the state incomprehensible and unacceptable. This provides the ideological impetus to subcultures in the military and paramilitary to go beyond the pale in counter insurgency operations. Such a thesis alone can explain the proliferation of unmarked graves across the Kashmiri landscape. It is not the doings of a largely secular and professional military, but is evidence of episodic dominance of subcultures subscribing to the communal virus within it. It can be hypothesised that such subcultures predominate in the paramilitary, given the acculturation into (north) 'Indian' mores, including for instance the propagation of Hindi.

However, it is in intelligence games that the communal strategists are most active. This has virtually been a cottage industry ever since Messrs. Vanzara and company, in Vanzara's own confession, were put to enhancing the image of a provincial politician as Iron Man II, the self-appointed saviour of the majority against terror intimidation from across the border and from within. To communal strategists, India's Muslim minority is a fifth column harbouring, in one fevered imagining, over 800 sleeper cells. They can be credited with making this canard a home truth. The latest instance of their cackle has been over the reference by the Congress scion of an intelligence operative accosting him with evidence of Muzaffarnagar's riot-affected Muslims turning to the bogeyman next door, the ten-foot-tall and no less, the ISI. One former foreign secretary with ambition to succeed the current National Security Adviser in the next dispensation in open forum said that India must not sabotage its case against Pakistan by referring to home grown, 'saffron' terror.

A major development in the strategic circuit has been the acceptability of communalists in seminar rooms. They are up front and unapologetic. They even have think tanks of their own with periodic events advertised as 'vimarsha'. This is useful in that there is no need to be hypocritical anymore. Secularism being to them pseudo secularism and given the intrinsic tolerance in Hinduism, they can only but be secular, there is no need for them to hide in the closet or hide their ideology as a skeleton. The advance is that a dialogue can now be joined with the credentials on the table. The enlightened public can then judge the debate. 

By and large they can be spotted in their rather 'tough' approach to neighbours, Pakistan in particular, Kashmir, 'Bangladeshi immigrants', Indian Muslim 'terrorists', Congress' nimble-footedness, 'pseudo-secular' strategists etc. The danger is that the debate is liable to get much less democratic in case the elections rustle them onto centre stage. Since they would hold the commanding heights of security policy, they would be averse to be shown up as emperors with no clothes. It can be hazarded that commentators pointing this out, both now and later, will be among the first to be frog-marched into silence. To pre-empt this, let naming and shaming of communal strategists begin. When ideology colours strategy, India cannot expect to be safe and secure.


News Updated at : Wednesday, November 27, 2013

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