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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

pm's speech in badami bagh

What the PM did not say out loud at Badami Bagh
The PMO website's depiction of the prime minister's speech at the Badami Bagh to troops of Chinar Corps need not detain us. It is a truthful if sanitised version of his speech ( He is reported to have said that self reliance is necessary for security, referring to his mention of offsets policy unveiled in the budget raising the foreign proportion in defence sector industries from 26 to 49 per cent. Not that the jawans would have caught the nuances of the defence offsets policy, but would surely have been impressed with his desire to modernise the military so that India could take its 'rightful' place at the high table of the international community. Narendra Modi can be forgiven for taking credit in his speech for the national war memorial to come up in the environs of India Gate. The usual platitudes mark the speech such as defence is necessary for development. 

However of interest is the subtext. The PMO cannot be expected to provide the subtext. That is for the discerning to detect ( There are three, not necessarily troubling aspects of the speech that need recording now and monitoring as the regime deepens its inroads into India's body politic. The first is the religious symbology deployed by the prime minister; next is his reference to India's ambitions; and lastly is his calling attention to his personal aspirations. 

That the terms Bharat Mata, Bharat Ma and Matrubhumi figure in his speech is excusable on two counts. The first is that as member of the 'religious socio-cultural organisation working towards the social and cultural regeneration of India' (PMO website) he can be expected to have nationalist views popular a century ago and led to the second world war. This corresponds to the German concept then of fatherland, that history records led to considerable violence. In this perspective motherland is valourised and the nation-state is considered the mother, epitome of goodness, to be defended at all costs. That the philosophy has come centerstage in India, despite efforts to marginalise it since the freedom struggle is a commentary on the times, as much as the organisational genious of Mr. Modi, mentioned ad nauseum in his personal life story on the PMO website. 

The second reason such reference need not be taken amiss is that his audience comprised soldiery for it was a town hall for troops, a sainik sammelan in military speak. The expectation is that the soldiery, of peasant and urban stalk, would be able to relate to such allusions. That is how they perhaps approach their onerous duties. This is a plank for motivation and self-motivation, pursuing a superior calling involving sacrifice for defence of the motherland as mother. This is unproblematic in itself. 

Why is this then remarkable at all? Firstly, the army is a secular entity. It can do without religious symbolism that all communities cannot relate to. For instance, it is debatable whether the troops from J&K Light Infantry Center who may have been among the listeners could have related to what Mr. Modi was saying. The concept of the country as mother is not one shared across all Indian communities. All supposedly contribute their sons to the army and therefore can do without impositions from majoritarian notions of patriotism and nationalism being deployed for motivational purposes. This is especially so when there are modern concepts available for motivation and cohesion, such as for instance, professionalism. The modern Indian military swears by professionalism. This implies that its members practice their profession to societal and state benefit and are supported to that end. At best the motivational ambit was restricted to 'Naam, Namak, Nishan', all notably absent from the PM's speech. Even as members can bring their personal convictions to bear on the service they render, there is no call for the organisation to have on its menu of motivational techniques any that are culturally specific. Therefore, Mr. Modi's speech writer, no doubt new to his desk, may require an orientation to the military's modern concept of professionalism in order that Mr. Modi's future cultural imagery that can be expected to be redolent with cultural nationalism, be sanitised for a military audience in future. 

Mr. Modi goes on to inform his audience that though they may serve in remote areas, they are never alone. "There is Parmatma alongside. And with God by one's side, victory is assured." This is unproblematic in itself yet again. Invoking god's blessings for soldiers is a universal ploy. The problem is that it mirrors the adversary, the jihadists' invoking of god likewise. With both sides believe that god is on their side, the religious side to an otherwise territorial dispute gets heightened. This problem can be heightened in light of the latest figures from the Indian Military Academy indicating that sixty per cent of the commissioned officers are from the cow-dust belt that has witnessed the 'Modi wave'. The possibility of these officers taking the cultural motivation literally is all the more and can redound on the professionalism of the army there irrespective of the professional brilliance and personal integrity that spoken reputation attributes to the military leaders currently in charge of the military in Kashmir, specifically generals Hooda in Udhampur and Saha in Badami Bagh. 

As it is, the multiplicity of military installations all over the valley understandably have temples, but less understandably so these temples, with the additional money flows into defence over the past decade, are considerably well appointed. For instance, the fa├žade of the Hari Parbat now has the roof of a temple of the paramilitary unit there over its parapet. All temples are done up with lights by night that were otherwise solely visible during Diwali and festivals. The temples that ought to be with the archeological survey have been made living temples. The activity surrounding the Amarnath Yatra and at Katra have been likened by Kashmiri radicals over the years to a cultural invasion, an argument that can begin to ring true unless India re-examines its motives and constitutional connect to the people of Kashmir. It is not for antediluvian reasons India is in Kashmir and Kashmir is India's. If this subtext were to take over India's argument over Kashmir, the religion centered counter of its opponents will gain credence. The outcome can only be a more open religious conflict, while currently it is so in undertone, an image that the jihadists prefer but have been denied so far. It should not be that the central government out to reset the country messes up India's Kashmir narrative due to its ideological blinkers. Unfortunately, it is uncertain from the NSA's earlier stint as head of Vivekanand International Foundation whether the NSA, who accompanied the PM, whether the NSA knows better. 

Briefly, the second aspect of India's aspirations needs attention. Mr. Modi lets on that India's strong defence has led to other nations courting it. It has lent India a voice in the international community to the extent that India is viewed, to quote Mr. Modi, as a 'catalytic agent' for peace. The subtext is perhaps that the 'international community', read the US, needs India to bail it out of the mess it is leaving behind in the region as it ignominiously exits Afghanistan. India can now step in as the security provider in the region. This refrain has been staple of the ultranationalist and realist combine in the strategic community. India proceeding down this path can have repercussions for Kashmir. That it has upped the defence budget by 12 per cent suggests its dual message to Pakistan: grasp our hand extended at the Rashtrapati Bhawan forecourt or face consequences. That even India does not itself believe in its extended is evident from the insurance it has taken out in the new budget. Had it done so then it would have signalled its intent to mend fences by going slow on defence, not in trips by the PM soon thereafter to INS Vikramaditya and Badami Bagh. In any case, it is not Mr. Sharif who needs to be impressed. He has failed the test earlier at Lahore. It is the Pakistan army and there are no prizes for how they will view India's ambitions. In other words, India needs a strong military because its strong military leads up to its own insecurity, the classic security dilemma on both sides of the Radcliffe and MacMahon lines. 

Finally, Mr. Modi makes a reference to his own personal agenda. This portion is better heard by readers individually so as to draw their own conclusions. The long and shot is that Mr. Modi after doling out the sops, the national war memorial in this case, appropriates any gratitude for himself. He lets on that he has many good works to complete since these have apparently been left over for him to complete. This personalisation of the link between a constitutional authority and a state institution is a subtle suggestion for the military to stay inert as he goes about rebooting India. This particular strand would require close monitoring by military watchers from the outside and indeed by the military itself. It is being boxed into an apolitical corner by modernisation and symbolic and tangible ploys such as OROP. Neutering institutions is standard practice when regimes proceed towards the more significant parts of their agenda. 

Deconstructing Mr. Modi's speech is important in order that such scrutiny deters, prevention being better than cure

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