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Sunday, December 25, 2016

COAS selection and the doctrine of ‘relative ease of working’ with

In wake of the selection of the next army chief, the notion that an abundance of operational experience is an indicator of strategic good sense has been debunked competently elsewhere. Some have argued that seniority is also not the best guarantee of enabling the best hand at the military helm. One argument that has been bandied about in favour of the double supersession, that of ‘relative ease of working’ with.
This has surfaced in two prominent publications, no doubt discreetly put out by the information warfare machinery at the ruling party’s command, both governmental and through its army of trolls. The underlying assumption is quite akin to selling demonetization, which in Amit Shah’s words needs being repeated a hundred times to become the logical thing to do to tackle black money, corruption, terrorism and to make India a cashless economy. Before it becomes a doctrine that will inform subsequent selections, it needs debunking.
A retired major general writes in The Wire:
A decision is more likely to be based on the ‘relative ease of working’ rather than just seniority. Relative ease implies certain qualities which are essential at that level, especially when, for example, the government is following a pro-active policy against India’s immediate neighbours… In simple terms, it is mutual understanding and commonality on thought and operational issues.
Josy Joseph writing for the once-credible The Hindu, lets on that, ‘Those close to the present government also argue that a factor taken into consideration was the ease of doing business with the new chief.’ He suggests that sources in-the-know have given out why the Modi government has gone in for its latest Tughlakian maneuver. This might just be the real reason why the army chief designate made it past two equally competent generals. 
A long-time military and intelligence watcher Saikat Dutta, writing for the, informs that the army chief designate caught the eye of the national security adviser at a previous interaction between the two during the planning and conduct of the supposedly trans-border operation in Myanmar against Naga rebels who had ambushed an army convoy. As the former army man, the information minister, had indicated then, it was the precursor to the more touted ‘surgical strikes’ of late.
Dutta writes: ‘Discussions at Army headquarters during the planning of this operation saw a close interaction between Rawat and Doval. Though the two men are years apart in age, the fact that both are Garhwalis helped them cement a working relationship.’ In hindsight, it can be said that this led up to Bipin Rawat’s move to South Block as Vice Chief and his subsequent elevation over the heads of his former boss at Eastern Command and his successor at Southern Command.
It appears that this is the most likely reason for the supersession and therefore calls out for like scrutiny by commentators as attended the other plausible reason touted, namely, operational experience. 
At the outset it bears mention that it was not Bipin Rawat who invited the national security adviser over to his operational area. Mr. Doval accompanied the Army Chief who landed up there to oversee a tactical level operation that perhaps directly involved at best two companies that could have well be overseen by a brigadier. More accurately put, it would be vice versa, with the army chief accompanying the super sleuth. Observers, noticing his omni-presence, had pointed to such hyper-activity not translating into strategic acumen. At the operational briefing, and perhaps when the operations were underway, there is no reason for Bipin Rawat to exercise self-censorship when sharing his views with Mr. Doval. That Mr. Doval found these palatable is now apparent.
The point that ‘sources’ in government and/or from the cultural nationalist front have put out is that the government required a chief who was amenable to its strategic shift, from strategic restraint to strategic proactivism. This they have now managed to get. What are the implications?
There is potential for politicization. An aspiring general can read the tea leaves. He can align his world view with that of the government. He can project himself as being ‘easy’ to work with. This obviously is not the case with Bipin Rawat, but those who follow would be keyed into this new-fangled principle of selection of apex military brass.
The famous case of BM Kaul, an officer of the service corps, being placed in charge to implement Nehru’s forward policy is rather well known. The officer who was against this policy, General Thorat, was shunted out. The supersession of General Sinha has a similar story attending it. He was reluctant to get the army involved cleaning up the Sikh unrest. His successor at Western Command, Sundarji, and the general who pipped him at the post, General Vaidya, were more willing to align with the government. A different angle to aligning with the government’s views or otherwise is from the episode in April 1971 when the army was asked to go into East Pakistan. General Manekshaw rightly demurred and gained control over the timing of the invasion. The results of the three examples are rather well known.
There is also one on potential possibilities. Take for instance the briefing by the then military operations and air operations heads to the BJP national executive at its party headquarters during the Kargil War. They were possibly corralled into it by the defence minister, a party ally of the BJP. Imagine a scenario in which General Vij, the then DGMO, declining the duty in light of its political repercussions. He would unlikely have made it to chief in his turn. On the other hand, his turning up for the briefing makes him out as pliable. That he succeeded Doval as head of the think tank, the Vivekananda International Foundation, suggests a likemindedness that well preceded his retirement.
The doctrine of ‘ease of doing business with’ therefore fraught. In the current case, the government wishes to have at the helm someone it believes shares its strategic orientation. This has the underside of giving rise to group think. The expectation of the army is that it would willingly say ‘Yes Sir’ on receiving its marching orders; that the army will be less process driven in terms of providing its input and feedback on the directions it receives. The ‘ease of doing business with’ formulation suggests a like-mindedness that is detrimental to national security decision making in that it deprives the government of unpalatable alternatives and diversity in options.
This is the practical manifestation of what in theory passes for subjective civilian control in which the government appoints a military brass that shares its views, rather than for professionalism that will enable it to receive a corporate view from the military that might be at variance with its own view or clash with the other inputs it receives such as from the foreign policy bureaucracy or intelligence agencies. Subjective civilian control was to the originator of the concept of military professionalism, Samuel Huntington, abusive of professionalism. It compromises the advisory role an apex military leader is to perform.
An example of the ‘ease of doing business with’, albeit one somewhat stretched, is from the last time round India wished to show its muscles. In the mid-eighties, Rajiv Gandhi and his whiz kids, that included Arjun Singh, were inclined to take India to a regional power status. This included moving from a brown water to blue water navy, upgrading its air force with the latest planes such as Jaguars, and allowing the army the run of the deserts to instill fear into Zia’s Pakistan. They had a visionary general in command who likewise liked painting on a wider canvas. By Rajiv Gandhi’s own admission, Exercise Brasstacks that Sundarji organized, took Indian an untimely a whisker away from war. Sundarji, tamed by the experience, was thereafter willing to fall in line with India’s viceroy in Colombo, JN Dixit, and the R&AW line that the Tamil Tigers were ‘our boys’.
The upshot is that there is no place for individual heroes in the national security pantheon. Neither Mr. Doval’s by now rather well-known intelligence exploits nor General Rawat’s operational experience can serve to substitute for robust institutional strength. This can only be obtained from institutions in national security performing as constitutionally and traditionally mandated. It cannot be through a measure of placing seemingly likeminded individuals at the helm.
In fact, the demonetization debacle suggests India direly needs leaders who can stand their ground. In the military sphere this is even more so since they have nuclear weapons and strike corps in their custody that the Modi-Doval duo may like to employ to embellish their 56 inch image, not necessarily the best and right use of these national assets.

The deep selection of heads was done earlier with the foreign service bureaucracy and now with the army. In both cases, the credibility of the individuals in question is not in question. Indeed, that India’s foreign policy is in doldrums owes perhaps to a pushback of the foreign policy bureaucracy led by redoubtable S. Jaishankar, to dictation from the national security bureaucracy. Bipin Rawat is by that yardstick equally credible as a military leader. His test is how he does not allow his supposed buy-in to a ‘nationalist’ world view – or so spin doctors are rationalizing his elevation - get in way of his professionally arrived at input in and follow through with decisions involving Indian use of force. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Parrikar thesis

Manohar Parrikar can be excused the exaggeration when speaking back home in his backyard in Goa. On that count and since by now he has a reputation for shooting from his mouth, we can let the macabre in his allusion to ‘gouge out eyes’ of the enemy pass. However, is his declaration that Pakistanis have thrown in the towel - a trifle premature?
The way the defence minister put it, the Pakistanis hurting from a bout of cross border and trans-Line of Control (LoC) firing, sought out our Director General Military Operations (DGMO) to call a truce.  They have reportedly kept their side of the bargain since. Perhaps Raheel Sharif wanted to retire with a blaze of gunfire in the background, lest the memory of surgical strikes plagues him in retirement. 
Nevertheless, this is all for the good, since civilian casualties were also being regularly reported on both sides. These were of levels beyond what might be reasonably clubbed as collateral damage. Pakistanis, while appearing responsive to the pleading of their border populace, are interested in turning down the heat so that their army is spared paying for what the jihadis wrought.
The pitch is higher this time as evident from the surgical strikes, mutilations, attacks on military targets in the interior and the political rhetoric in India. Presumably for deterrence and as punishment, Parrikar threatens to give back double of what India receives. Does this help India in any way?
The terror attack in Nagrota is just another instance of a pattern of attacks over the past few years in which Pakistan has exacted a toll on our security forces. It has evidently moved away from targeting civilians in wake of the opprobrium it was subjected to post 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
The move is sensible from Pakistani point of view. Politically, it keeps the pot boiling in Kashmir, suggesting externally that all is not quite in Kashmir and internally to Kashmiris that they have not been entirely abandoned by it. Militarily, it helps tie down the Indian army in protective duties, thereby, tiring it out.
Then there is the culture of chowkidari in Indian army. The army throws manpower at every problem, ranging from warding of China (with a mountain strike corps) to grass cutting (with fatigue details). It can be expected to continue doing so as reflected in its recruiting and training systems.
However, the potential for Kashmir to boil over at a crunch is clear from the 133 days standoff across the state this summer. While India has sufficient paramilitary adept at suppressive duties in such conditions, they would likely aggravate the situation in the circumstance of war. Pakistan can thus potentially tie down the Rashtriya Rifles too. 
The upshot is that the offensive forces India has for deploying against Pakistan cannot upset the status quo in Kashmir. As they say, ‘mountains eat troops’. Mr. Modi’s reference to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan from the Red Fort ramparts is but chimerical.
Sure, India has offensive capability in the plains. While the offensive content of pivot corps can be blunted by Pakistan, India has locked up its offensive punch in strike corps, which can be unusable in the nuclear age. This has more to do with internal turf wars within the military than a war winning strategy . 
The logical next steps from surgical strikes and demonetization is war. Pratap Bhanu Mehta calls this a permanent revolution. India can blame Pakistan for making it go nuclear. Even so, India has not come up with an answer to break out of  the Pakistani sandwich of its conventional forces with irregular  war on one hand and nuclear war on the other. 
Consequently, if probed, Parrikar would be hard put to explain his thesis that India can put Pakistan’s ‘gouged out eyes’ back in its hand.  Gouging out eyes can certainly be done. India has the kilo tonnage for that, but putting the eyes back in Pakistan’s hand would be a tall order. For in the bargain India would also be blind.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Bhopal episode and the return of the hostage theory

The killings of eight undertrial prisoners after an alleged breakout of a high security prison in Bhopal are a message. This message is internally and externally directed. In its external orientation, it is a message by the security establishment to Pakistan that Indian Muslims are hostage to Pakistani good behavior. In its internal orientation it is a reminder to India’s Muslims that they are at the mercy of the majority and had on that count better stick to the right-wing sanctioned view of the straight and narrow.
This is not the first time in which undertrial prisoners have been gunned down. In fact, there is a well-known culture of police impunity stretching back decades. This goes by the term ‘encounters’. All manner of challenges to the state and criminality have been met with such staged killings, be it in counter-insurgency situations as Kashmir, North East and Maoist areas, but also in law and order situations in which noted criminals are bumped off.
Such killings have included Muslims among victims, such as the case last year in which five undertrial Muslim prisoners in Nalgonda were gunned down in cold blood by their escort party of Telangana police under the implausible excuse that they were attempting to make good their escape. That Muslims are not the sole victims is clear from the incident the same week when 20 alleged red-sanders smugglers were killed by the Andhra police.
From this it might appear that the opening paragraph above is somewhat overblown, resulting perhaps from an emotional reaction to the incident in Bhopal. However, such an observation would be plausible if this article was written in the immediate wake of the incident when the video and audio footage from the scene went viral on the internet. A few weeks on the observation in the first paragraph, that was then at best a suspicion, has congealed somewhat and is worth examining for what it is worth.
In the light of the messaging seemingly immanent in the killings, the hostage theory needs a reprise. The hostage theory was propounded by Jinnah when he became an adherent to the two-nation theory. He was against the vivisection of the two Muslim majority provinces, Punjab and Bengal. He therefore felt that retaining the minorities in the Muslim and Hindu majority parts of India would ensure that the majorities ruling on the other side would mete out fair treatment to respective minorities.
In the event, the minorities voted for Partition with their feet, vacating their traditional homelands in wake of Partition in a wave of violence on both sides. The Nehru-Liaquat pact after the crisis in 1950 stabilised the situation resulting from Partition. Over time, the numbers of non-Muslims in the two Muslim majority states that emerged out of British India became fewer and fewer, mostly due to a perceived insecurity in these states.
In India, the situation was more habitable and Muslims not only chose to stay but have relatively been more secure than their Hindu counterparts in either Pakistan or Bangladesh. However, over the last quarter century, coinciding with the rise of the right-wing in Indian politics, the question of security of India’s Muslims has come to fore. The Gujarat carnage has been the nadir. With the country electing the then chief minister of Gujarat as its prime minister, it is a question that can only continue to linger.
In the official Indian narrative, India has attempted to reach out to Pakistan. The invite to Nawaz Sharif to Mr. Modi’s swearing in ceremony and Mr. Modi’s susrprise visit to Pakistan are taken as evidence. However, since the military calls the shots in Pakistan, India has not been able to make a dent on Pakistan’s policy of proxy war in Kashmir and support to terrorism in the rest of India. This has led to firmer action on India’s part lately, best exemplified by Ram Madhav’s call for a shift from strategic restraint to strategic proactivism. The results are already visible along the Line of Control with the army engaging in surgical strikes and almost daily fire assaults and the paramilitary force, the BSF, also joining in with fire exchanges along the IB in J&K.
If the matter had rested at this, it would have been but a return to the situation as existed in the nineties and restricted to J&K. However, there is the wider Muslim agenda of the right-wing that needs unfolding.  BJP has gone a step further in proposing amendments to the citizenship bill which will enable non-Muslim minorities in the neighbouring countries to gain Indian citizenship. This measure, among others, heralds the creation of a Hindu state in the image envisioned in the Hindutva philosophy adhered to by the ruling party. For the Muslims living in India, the prime minister, recalling the injunction of his ideological mentor Deen Dayal Upadhyay in a speech in Kozhikode this past September, proposed ‘purification’.
It is clear that in the right-wing world view it is at the interstices of India’s external and internal security planes that Indian Muslims are located. The external factor is their association with the two nation theory and with Pakistan. This explains the oft-used term, ‘Go to Pakistan’. The internal is that Muslims are to lead lives as dictated by the right wing. In the words of one of its leading lights, Golwalkar, Muslims constitute an internal security threat, who, in his words, ‘may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, for less any preferential treatment, not even the citizen's rights.’
This is the context of the Bhopal incident. The killings have come in the backdrop of a worsening regional security situation, with Pakistan’s terror attack in Uri having been responded to by Indian surgical strikes. The killings were on Diwali, when there is a heightened expectation within the intelligence agencies of terror incidents. The killings can thus be interpreted as a warning to Pakistan not to indulge in any terror action in India. Internally, they serve to warn off Indian Muslims who the intelligence community perhaps believes are susceptible to Pakistani overtures for creating trouble in India. In effect, Indian Muslims are to be held hostage to Pakistani good behavior.
This interpretation of the Bhopal encounter killings suggests that the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon. In the near term the ruling party requires the polarization since it is faced with polls. Its latest demonetization misstep indicates that it would be paying a price in the UP elections. Therefore, the status quo on the Indian Muslim security question is likely to persist till the national elections. The unfortunate and inescapable conclusion is that Muslim insecurity can only be alleviated once the nation, in particular our Hindu brethren, show the ruling party the door at the next democratic opportunity. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The myth of ‘strategic restraint’

In mid-2013, a group, referring to itself as ‘members of India’s strategic community’, brought out a press statement at their haunt, the Vivekananda International Foundation that read: ‘It is time that policies are devised that will impose a cost on Pakistan for its export of terror to India, and thus change the cost-benefit calculus of these policies and actions. A proactive approach by India towards Pakistan must be the order of the day, as it will yield us much better results than those garnered by policies of appeasement which have regrettably been pursued by us for years.’[1]
The group amongst which was Mr. Doval, current day national security adviser, has since captured the national security policy making establishment. The results are self-evident, with India’s Pakistan policy taking a final policy turn – after several ‘pirouettes’, in one apt phrasing. Today, if prime time strategists are to be believed, India is following a doctrine of strategic proactivism, jettisoning the strategic restraint of the preceding NDA and UPA periods.
The jury is still out on whether the shift is indeed as marked as its votaries shout about. After all, a set of ‘surgical strikes’ in wake of the Uri attack, are not qualitatively different from those India has reportedly engaged in over the years, dating back to Sharad Pawar’s stint at the defence ministry’s helm. Only, now India is acknowledging outright what it has been at all along, and, while doing so, noticeably couching its language so as to align its action with international law and with the tenets of limitation in the nuclear age.
There are two divergent inferences from this lack of shift: one that the strategic doctrine does indeed continue to be one of strategic restraint; and, two, that what passed for strategic restraint earlier was instead - unacknowledged and misinterpreted - strategic proactivism. Agreeing with the proactive strategy votaries, here a case is made that the second inference is more in accord with reality.
Contrary to the conventional  thinking, the argument here is that strategic restraint is a myth and that India instead has a healthier record of strategic proactivism, though kept well under wraps till Mr. Modi stepped up to unwrap it in the run up to a consequential round of elections in UP and Punjab soon.   
Those spearheading strategic restraint rummage the cupboard of history to make their case that India has been a power always imposed on by nefarious neighbours, particularly Muslims to its north west. This explains their reject of the last thousand year strategic history of the subcontinent as not quite ‘Indian’ since India’s strategic trajectory was not dictated by natives as much as foreigners, with Muslims settled in India for over half a millennium continuing to be regarded as foreigners, including the likes of southerner Tipu Sultan.
A reading of the introductory chapter to the book India’s Wars,[2] by a member of the – by all accounts - apolitical and secular military brass and on the faculty of an august institution that turns out its future higher commanders, informs as much. He writes that he is ‘inclined to look at the Mughals as foreigners who ravaged India.’ He finds the Haidar-Tipu sojourn in the Deccan as relatively short and therefore not worth including alongside the martial exploits of the contemporaneous Marathas and Sikhs to his dating of the origin of the modern Indian army. He chooses to miss out on an opportunity to rehearse the secular imagery - Ranjit Singh, a Sikh; the Peshwas, Hindus; and Tipu, a Muslim – keeping colonialism at bay. His wards at the National Defence College cannot exit its portals unscathed by such history telling. Since this mythology shall get wider as the Modi era firms in, it is best exposed sooner than later. 
The more popular discourse within strategic circles – reproduced in the book – is that India – ever the ‘good guy’ - has since Independence been on the receiving end of its neighbours. That it did go on to retake PoK in 1949, has left regaining it as the ‘unfinished business of Partition’ – a newly minted interpretation of the phrase used hitherto by its adversary. In 1962, instead of throwing in the towel, Nehru should have chased the Chinese back, and used air power to do so, since they would have been caught on the wrong side of the Himalayas in the fast approaching winter then.
In 1965, India should have proceeded with the war beyond its three weeks since Pakistan was exhausted. In this line of thinking, giving back Haji Pir later at Tashkent is the quintessential example of India’s softness. In 1971, India should have used the PoWs as pawns in getting Pakistan to give up its Kashmir obsession. In the various crises unleashed by mega terror incidents, India should have ‘taught Pakistan a (military) lesson’. That it has apparently finally followed their advice explains the loud cheers following the Uri riposte.
All this papers over India’s proactivism. In 1947, it was first off the military-blocks by refraining from signing the Standstill Agreement even as it interestedly watched the Maharaja borrow its proxies, the Patiala State forces, for operations in Kashmir. Later, the timely arrival of its regular army led to chasing the tribal invaders back to Uri. In 1962, its ‘forward policy’ prompted in some measure the Chinese invasion. In 1965, it pulled the rug from under Pakistan by stretching the war zone to include the Lahore front from Pakistan’s plan to keep it confined to Kashmir. It returned Haji Pir in order to incentivize the firming in the ceasefire line as a mutually acceptable finality. It vivisected Pakistan in a well thought through intelligence, diplomatic and military operation over the better part of 1971. It is foolish to sell the notion that it could have ignored its compulsions under the Geneva Conventions to keep Pakistani troops hostage to Pakistan signing on the dotted line giving away Kashmir. It was assertive all through the eighties, be it in Sri Lanka or internally in Punjab.
By the nineties, it rightly understood that it was in the nuclear age. Internally, it deployed its army to quell the insurgency in Kashmir and Assam. The claim that IK Gujral shut down the R&AW’s external operations itself suggests that these were well in hand; and it also needs noting that the Gujral doctrine of unilateral concessions to neighbors had one notable exception, Pakistan.
In wake of terror attacks, the consistent call in the Delhi-centric strategic community has been to militarily take down Pakistan a peg or two. The army came up with a doctrine to enable India to do so, Cold Start. India’s devotion of a proportion of its liberalization-expanded national cake to gain the wherewithal to do so, indicates strategic proactivism not of the immediate kind but a future oriented one. This does not in any way make it less ‘proactive’, at least not where it matters, in General HQ, Rawalpindi. Alongside, the several attacks on Indian consulates across the Durand Line, suggests that it checkmated Pakistan’s redoubtable ISI in its own backyard, Afghanistan. The insertion of the reference to Baluchistan by Pakistan to the meeting’s outcome as far back as in the Sharm es Shaikh meeting in 2009 indicates that Indian interests in Baluchistan are not particularly recent. Diplomatically, India not only de-hyphenated itself from Pakistan and got up close to the US, but has managed to distance the US from its ‘most allied ally’ Pakistan.    
It is apparent that India’s strategic postures and actions cannot easily be taken as strategic restraint. Instead, strategic restraint was not so much a misnomer, but appears to have been conjured to dull attention to India’s strategic moves. It helped justify the moves as resulting from neighbours ganging up to pose it a ‘two front’ problem. It obscured the security dilemma of its principal neighbour stemming from India’s low-profile strategic proactivism, including of the long-term kind.
Strategic restraint did involve keeping the military sheathed for good reasons, but being militarily restrained does not fully equate with strategic restraint, since strategy has several instruments at its command – intelligence, diplomacy, economic - all of which more than compensated for any military restraint. At tripling of the defence budget over this century cannot by any stretch qualify as military restraint either.
In effect, India has been strategically proactive for long, only now its people are being let in on the state secret. Acknowledging this is the first step back from the nuclear brink. Newly minted strategic proactivism entails not only going too far but also to be seen to be doing to. Against a Muslim red rag held by equally charged religious extremists, this is a sure recipe for nuclear disaster. Averting this requires, as the second step, adopting strategic restraint for real.

[1] VIF, ‘Press Statement on India-Pakistan Relations by Members of India’s Strategic Community’,
[2] Arjun Subramaniam, India’s  Wars: A Military History 1947-1971, New Delhi: Harper  Collins, 2016. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

India-Pakistan: In a dialogue of sorts

The Uri attack is being taken as one in a series of Pakistani outrages over the recent past in J&K. The tally from the Pathankot airfield attack could have been equally grave, with even aviation assets figuring in the toll. Likewise, had the terrorists taken the other gate nearby, they might well have ended up in married accommodation in police lines in the Gurdaspur attack.  This time round the terrorists got luckier, with fire doing most of the killing. Consequently, the calls for getting tough on Pakistan appear unexceptionable.
However, what if the Uri attack is seen as part of a sequence of attacks on each other that India and Pakistan are engaged in over the past few years? This requires stretching the imagination a bit in light of the persistent factoid that India clipped its offensive and covert operations capability when IK Gujral was prime minister. The constant refrain in the strategic discourse is that India is forever on the receiving end, needs to upgrade its capabilities and shift gears into an offensive mode.
Against such conditioning, to imply that India has been giving-as-good-as-it-gets would require asking Indians to suspend disbelief for a moment. Whereas Pakistan’s resort to terrorism is more in-your-face, India’s using Afghanistan as spring-board is much less so, making it difficult to comprehend. This involves giving some credence to Pakistani allegations, and Pakistan is not exactly believable. Nevertheless, it would be naïve to in face of the pattern of terrorism in Pakistan that we have nothing to do with it.
Subject to the terrorism inflicted on India, it would be delusive to believe that we have only fought back with war rhetoric and diplomacy. India has not used its military despite the military’s well-practiced ‘quick off the blocks’ routine of ‘Cold Start’. It has also not activated the military along the Line of Control. Superficially, it would appear that India is only relying on diplomacy and information war strategies. It is trite to repeat that for effect, diplomacy and rhetoric need to be backed by muscle. It begs credulity that India under the strongmen – Messrs. Modi and Doval – is merely relying on the ‘rope-a-dope’ trick, taking the punches and riding out the swings. Since it is not economic or military muscle India is displaying, surely, such muscle must likely be through some other instrument of national power. Clearly, there is more to India’s response lately than meets the eye. So let’s get real.
Our very own intelligence operatives - with Mr. Doval in the lead - are not second best, even if ISI has greater notoriety. Our boys have much experience behind them, even if they have not seen off a superpower and are about to see off another like the ISI. We have Bangladesh to our credit. We created Frankenstein Prabhakaran. We had a finger in the Sindhi and Mohajir pies. Kulbhushan Yadav, supposedly caught red-handed at intelligence work, is Indian. Besides, if Indian liberals and radicals are even half-right, we have at least some expertise in false-flag operations. And, finally, we own the copyright  to Chanakyan thought. 
Taking off our blinkers would help with a realistic perspective. Doing so will enabe seeing the Uri attack as one of a series of attacks indulged in by both intelligence establishments. Pakistan’s persistence with terrorism implies that its intelligence agencies are in a dialogue using terrorism with their Indian counterparts. Through this dialogic violence the two national security establishments are communicating with each other. The dialogue seeks out each other’s limits. While India is trying to flush Pakistan down the failed state route through proxy war using what Pakistan considers ‘bad terrorists’, Pakistan for its part is out to sensitise India that the more successful India gets at this, the more Pakistan would ensure that it drags India down with it too. This is diplomacy by dirtier means. The tone of the two states in the recent UN General Assembly session is played out more directly, through a bloodier and meaner instrument. 
The Kashmir issue and the current turmoil in Kashmir merely provide a setting. At one level, Pakistan would like to keep the problem in and of Kashmir alive; particularly, in light of India’s spin on the interpretation of the dispute to being retrieval of PoK and other areas from Pakistan. This explains Pakistan’s dressing up its terror attacks as attacks on legitimate military targets, plausibly attempting to lower their ‘terror’ quotient. Pushed on the back-foot by unrest in Kashmir, India is attempting to divert attention with references to Balochistan, even though doing so lets the cat out of the bag.
The Kashmir issue itself is resolvable, with governments on both sides including the more nationalist ones – NDA I and Musharraf respectively – coming close to agreeing on putting it on a back burner. That none has succeeded owes to the issue being a symptom. At yet another – higher - level, the game is much bigger than Kashmir.
For India it is to transcend Pakistan. For sane strategists doing so will help India break out of the regional box that consigns it at best as a regional power. But to closet Hindutvavadi strategists it is to transcend a history perceived in the Hindu nationalist narrative as one of subjugation. Those at the political helm and with hands on the reins of the national security establishment believe that India has had 1200 years of foreign domination that its seventy years of independence era have not exorcised. Pakistan is the ‘thorn’ that India needs to rid itself off for reconciling with itself, a necessary first step to regaining its millennia-old, millennia-long, pre-Muslim-advent, glory.
This is music to Pakistani ears. For Pakistan – or through the eyes of its military – this implies ensuring Pakistan does not go under, into an Indian (read Hindu) cultural embrace. Kashmir helps keep the military atop the Pakistani power structure. The military – aloft - keeps Pakistan from losing its Islamic moorings. This reading of Pakistan’s vulnerability to Indian colonization is shared by Islamists and terror minders in Pakistan. Whereas the Pakistani military has to be mindful of not killing the goose that lays the golden egg – Pakistan - the Islamists have no such obligation; instead, they might like to profit from India and Pakistan coming to blows. This makes the Pakistani military’s position difficult; not only must it take on India so as to keep the jihadists from running away with the agenda, but also to ensure that jihadists in their enthusiasm don’t burn the house down.
This better explains the protracted stand-off between the two, described by one long-time South Asia observer as a hundred-year war. Kashmir is not the ‘root cause’. It cannot be solved since it is symptom of a deeper – prior - ‘root cause’: religious extremism. Whereas in Pakistan it is through the army – that de facto runs the country - and Islamists being on the same page, in India religious nationalists are now in control of the government itself. Whereas in Pakistan Islamism has only subverted the state, in India religious nationalism now has – worse - captured it. Whereas in Pakistan the extremist-terror link is rather visible, in India it is much less so. This does not make India’s subscription to mirroring forces any less significant. That Pakistan needs a reset is widely acknowledged; but that India also needs a like prescription needs first acknowledging.

Thus far the Pakistani establishment used terror for its ends. Hereon, India shall mirror it. The dialogue though will likely continue, never mind that just as one between its diplomats, it is the dialogue of the deaf. The upshot will be a mirroring in India of what is already apparent in Pakistan. This, until some terror group gets remarkably lucky, and when it does so get, lift the dialogue to a crescendo: through nuclear blows. To paraphrase a wit’s view of the 1965 War as a ‘communal riot with tanks’, the next is one with nukes. Finally, India would have exorcised its Muslim demon and Pakistan its Hindu specter; notwithstanding, ‘husha, busha, we all fall down’.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Front Cover

The book is an outcome of patronage of editors of the publications in
which the commentaries here have appeared. The editors have given me
space to voice an opinion. I have tried to reciprocate by contributing
opinion pieces that were off the beaten track. To the extent that
editorial staff has had to improve the output, I am grateful to all who
have made the contributions presentable. The thoughts in the book are
however entirely mine and no other person/institution/organization is
responsible for the contents in any way of this book.


The book comprises my commentaries in Milligazette, Kashmir Times
and and a few other websites such as countercurrents.
org and I have reflected in the main on Indian politics,
Muslim condition, military issues, nuclear war, Kashmir and India-
Pakistan relations. The commentaries therefore would be of interest to
those who have lived in India and have witnessed the region go through
very interesting times this decade between mid 2014 and start of 2016.
The period saw the BJP come to power in India. The ideology of this
party to my mind had implications for the security of the country, the
region and India’s largest minority community, India’s Muslims. I have
largely reflected on these implications and have regrettably had to be
somewhat cautionary. To me, the right wing agenda of the BJP would
drive away the secular foundation of policy and rationalist grounding
of strategy. My commentaries mostly highlighted the dangers and
hopefully have served to alert the thinking public and the strategic
Externally, I think India under the new ruling party is out to try and
intimidate Pakistan into ‘giving up’. The strategy is not without its risks.
I have consistently pointed in particular to the nuclear dangers this
entails. Internally, India’s Muslim minority and Kashmiris are worried
by the majoritarian turn to polity. I have covered these concerns. I have
also looked at the possibility of politicization of the military in some of
the pieces.
Altogether, I think my vantage points have been off the mainstream.
As a result I believe that the angles and perspectives covered in the book
would repay a reader in that she would hopefully find them original,
interesting and refreshing. The book is in a way an extension of my earlier
two published by CinnamonTeal: Think South Asia and Subcontinental
In all, the liberal perspective has informed the writings and this
would serve to enhance the thinking on national security and strategy
that is largely stuck in the unprofitable realist groove. I hope the ideas
enthuse students and faculty, lay public, officials and officers. As with
Think South Asia, this book too is dedicated to people of South Asia,
who are, as its title suggests, in life and on earth together as one.


Modi worsens India’s doctrinal muddle
Ram Madhav’s Akhand Bharat And Modi’s Pakistan Policy
The conspiracy angle to the Pathankot episode
Fighting the ISIS: India should measure its steps
The Chennai floods and India’s strategic underside
India-Pak bonhomie: Can it last?
The Paris attacks and India’s Muslims
Is Mani Shankar Aiyar right?
‘Pakistani idiocy’: A general gets it half right
Whither Modi, and, at one remove, India?
The military musical chairs
Getting practical over an important report
Why Ramchandra Guha speaks too soon
What is really driving India’s Pakistan strategy?
A Viewpoint: Home Minister Brings ‘Saffron Terror’ Back on the
Look who’s doing yoga now!
Kashmir: Not the moment for a tryst
India-Israel: Increasingly Birds of a Feather
The seeds of India’s ‘tough guy’ image
Kashmir and India’s Muslims
How deep does our prejudice run?
Contesting the Mushrif thesis
China policy: Will economics trump the military stance?
Undoing injustice to Kashmiri Pandits
What will it mean to have India as a ‘security provider’?
Kashmir: Fifty years since 1965 War
Deconstructing Mr. Modi’s speech
Strategy for the Modi era
Challenges of the brass in a political minefield
Kashmir : Looking back a quarter century on
What the maritime ‘non-incident’ on New Year’s Eve tells us
What is a moderate Indian Muslim to do? @Chetan_Bhagat
Where veterans refuse to give up, what does the future hold?
India-Pakistan with Kashmir in between
The pebbles ahead in Mr. Modi’s comfortable ride
Is the army court’s verdict on the Machhil killings enough?
Kashmir: Hooda walks the talk
Can PM Modi pull it off?
Mr. Modi’s next stunt
Kashmir : Politicisation of security and its consequences
Sunburn warning for India’s day in the sun
What is Mr. Modi’s Kashmir strategy?
Messiah Modi: What to make of him?
Indo-Pak talks: Getting past the eyewash
The Fear That Does Not Speak Its Name
Modi forges a commitment trap
Majoritarian terrorism: The resounding silence
Normalisation of the terror narrative: The response
The Echo of Gaza closer home
What the PM did not say out loud at Badami Bagh
Will Modi relook at ‘massive’ retaliation in India’s nuclear doctrine?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

 A War at Hand
A press release on the 18th anniversary of the Pokhran II nuclear tests by the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) sounds the alarm on a possible future. The press release states: ‘The Modi government’s evident lack of professionalism in foreign policy and the ideological penchant for jingoism to divert public criticism on domestic issues has only worsened the situation and there are apprehensions that the BJP might promote war hysteria as we reach closer to the next elections.’
This is unusual pessimism when Modi is only set on his third year. He is looking towards the dividend from his several visits abroad. He is set to be off to Iran, Israel and the US soon. He has put the tweezers on Pakistan by holding out on talks until it proves responsive on terrorism. Internally, he is putting the Congress out to dry. The results from the recent provincial polls might embolden him to further corner the UP government in the run up to poll next year. The first salvo has been the televised entry of a water train to Bundelkhand. His heavy artillery, Subramanian Swamy, elevated to Rajya Sabha for the purpose, is busy setting the scene for a revival of the Ram Mandir issue. With UP in the kitty, Amit Shah no doubt already has his eyes set on the following national polls, perhaps heralded as was the case with Rajiv Gandhi’s shilanyas, with the ‘bhoomi poojan’ – in today’s parlance - for a Mandir.
So which of the two scenarios will shape up: the usual despondency of the marginalized naysayers or that of upbeat Hindutva plotters? Curiously, both can end up true. The only surety is that if it takes a war to help keep Modi in power, there could well be one.
Since Modi is merely two years in the chair, he has not yet been abandoned by his development supporters. He is deftly attempting to pin any blame for lack of the promised neo-liberal dividend on the Congress’ grandstanding in parliament. This is designed to evict them from the upper house, enabling a clear coast for his corporate backers. Having given them full play over the past two years, his saffron supporters can be expected to continue with him. His blind eye allowed them a succession of sticks to beat the minority with. He has left off their mascots – Messrs. Vanzara et al. In any case, he has his trump card – the mandir – up his sleeve in case their faith in him lags. Therefore, it is too early to write off Mr. Modi as the naysayers have done.
Nevertheless, the Modi wave does seem exhausted. It suffered two reverses too many: Delhi and Bihar. The students at JNU and elsewhere have severely embarrassed him, so much so that hagiography on social media and in the media is not at the earlier levels of din. Indeed, the Arun Shourie interview has put him on notice with his support base in the middle class. If the Congress was to pull out the ace up their sleeve – Priyanka Gandhi – then Mr. Modi’s inner worry will begin to show. This is where the scenario of the CNDP will kick in.
The tinder is already piled up. Pakistan is being squeezed. From diplomacy being on hold, it can be inferred that the game who-blinks-first is on. This may take a season or two to play out, interspersed with episodes of the by now familiar reaching out, such as a prospective Modi visit to Islamabad in autumn, and pauses thereafter in close succession. Depending on how ‘successful’ the intelligence and psy war game pans out, the closer Pakistani establishment will get to exasperation. Absent conflict resolution, with Kashmir on the usual edge, they will have an outlet.
India has kept its military honed for just such an eventuality. It has most recently practiced its moves involving both a strike corps and a pivot corps in Exercises Shatrujeet and Chakravyuh II respectively. While the former witnessed the drop of a whole para brigade; the latter too is advertised as having an element of air envelopment. This suggests that Special Forces would be speeding up operations, both for the pivot corps in the initial stages and for the strike corps in the penultimate stage. What speeding up means in face of Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons, now a half decade old, is moot.
The expectation is that Pakistan will in the event be self-deterred on three counts. The first is easy to dismiss as has been competently done in the hallowed pages of International Security. The expectation is that the Pakistani civilian casualties from its own tactical nukes would be of such an order as to be prohibitive. This is predicated on the misconception that Pakistan would launch several strikes in order to stop India’s conventional ingress. This leads to the conclusion that since Pakistan would not be able to countenance such casualties, there would be no nuclear first use; thereby, enabling Indian attack. QED. However, this can be debunked as willfully misrepresenting the manner Pakistan would go nuclear and its aims in doing so. The most plausible such use would be to unmistakably signal crossing of a threshold by India troops who would thereby be best advised to back off. 
The second is that Indian troops would in a broad swathe hold Pakistani population centers hostage. This reading of India’s operational plans suggests that India will deliberately troop into developed terrain, in which its mechanized capability is most unsuited, in order to avoid giving Pakistan targets for tactical nuclear first use. This suggestion is in face of the in-your-face military history of this century in which even superior militaries have got bogged down in demographic terrain. Therefore, even if for argument sake it is granted that there is no nuclear first use – there are targets aplenty in the rear of such troops in a toe-to-toe mode – such troops can be likened to putting their hands into a beehive of irregular, jihad inspired fighters.
The third is that since Pakistan cannot be sure of not being ‘wiped off the map’ in any escalation and especially so if India keeps to its nuclear word of ‘massive’ retaliation, Pakistan would play conventional ball. All three arguments though easy to refute nevertheless serve to incentivize Indian use of its military power.
Such power would be at Mr. Modi’s beck and call if and when he gets into a tight internal political spot. As seen, politics is no longer what it used to be for a Modi used to referring to himself in third person. If the long standing observation of Ashis Nandy holds water, then Mr. Modi would unlikely follow Manmohan Singh in self-denial.  Mr. Singh modestly forewent using the military instrument in face of 26/11. The difference this time round is that Mr. Modi need not wait for a ‘provocation’. If the alleged Pakistani observation from their visit to Pathankot airfield is to be believed, Indian security minders could well trigger off a ‘provocation’. Even the famous parliament attack has drawn credible speculation as being a ‘curious case’. In fact, sound military strategy requires seizing the initiative and not leaving such onerous decisions as war to the whims of passing jihadis. War itself is seldom reactive; only its outbreak is often papered over with such spin. With an intelligence czar at the helm of national security, Chanakya niti of such an order cannot be entirely ruled out. 
To conclude, the naysayers in CNDP are only partially right. There would not only be war clouds, but also war to enable Modi’s emulation of Indira’s Goddess Durga act. It might be safer to wish Mr. Modi political good health over the balance of his tenure. May the Make-in-India tide lift all boats, including Pakistani ones.  Amen.


Sunday, May 08, 2016

World War II redux in the nuclear age

Media reported that at the late April culmination of the Mathura based 1 Corps Exercise Shatrujeet, the parachute brigade comprising 3000 soldiers was air dropped from the heavy-lift C-17 Globemaster-III, C 130 J Hercules, IL 76 and Antonov 32 aircrafts ‘deep inside the enemy's territory’.
The media goes on to quote Major General PC Thimmaya, the divisional commander of Red Eagle Division which is part of the corps being exercised, as saying that it was ‘somewhat closer to what the allied forces did against Germany in the World War II’. He reportedly said, "It reaffirms the Indian Army's strike capabilities with impunity." 


In his reference to World War II, Maj Gen Thimmaya perhaps had the popular image in mind right out of Operation Market Garden. In that battle, Gen Sir Brian Horrocks XXX Crops led Montgomery’s 21st Army Group across Netherlands into Germany. 


The second image is of the fabled drop of the parachute battalion, 2 Para, at Tangail in a bid to hasten the dash for Dacca. The Paras were to cut off a retreating Pakistani brigade at a river bridge. The urgency of reaching Dacca owed to rumours of the American 7th Fleet setting sail from the Pacific for the Bay of Bengal. Ending the war with the early capture of Dacca became priority, whereas the initial war plan was only to capture enough territory to set up a Bangladeshi government.
The third image conjured up is from Gulf War I in which the US military doctrine of the Cold War years, the AirLand battle – combined air and ground operations – was tested. General ‘Stormin’ Norman’ Shwarzkopf’s Operation Desert Storm  had as its trump card the ‘Hail Mary’ maneuver. 


Finally, there is one more scenario, albeit a fictional one. General ‘Paddy’ Padmanabhan post retirement put his thoughts into his somewhat ambitiously titled book, The Writing on the Wall: India Checkmates America 2017


The four scenarios need to be seen against the single most significant factor in crisis and conflict today, the nuclear factor.
A World War II Operation Market Garden like scenario presumably would enable the strike corps 1 Corps, known to operate under the South Western Command, to gain the green belt astride River Indus once it gets past the semi-developed terrain opposite northern Rajasthan. To expect that this can be done with ‘impunity’ – presumably implying lack of nuclear threat or response from Pakistan – is self-delusional.
The second scenario has the Paras enabling quicker war termination on advantageous terms. In 1971 War, the war aims expanded in scope with the success achieved by forces on the ground. If the Paras, now designated as Special Forces, are to be so employed today, they risk a quicker lowering of the nuclear threshold by Pakistan.


The paradox is that the closer India gets to conventional military success the more vulnerable it gets to nuclear deterrence failure.

The third scenario resembles closest the possible employment of the parachute brigade practiced in Exercise Shatrujeet. 


In his book, Paddy has the army cutting into Sindh. This can be enabled by the parachute brigade deploying ahead in ‘pivots’ or defended areas in enemy territory to, for instance, prevent counter poising movement by Pakistan’s reserves. This could enable the strike corps to strike deep. Alternatively, it can be landed in aid of Baluch rebels further to the rear of Pakistani forces. If Pakistan’s posturing of its tactical nuclear weapons is to be taken seriously, such attempts would trigger its nuclear response. Not to take it seriously is to seriously misread nuclear weapons.
Finally, is the seemingly benign scenario in which Indian – and US – Special Forces take over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. 


... it could trigger unpredictable consequences. Pakistan’s paranoia dates to the supposed Indian-Israeli threat to its nuclear status of the early eighties. Pakistan is already on record threatening retaliation towards India, whatever the source of the threat.
This analysis suggests that having the capability of deploying a para brigade into battle, howsoever impressive, is not an unmixed blessing. The intent is perhaps to deter Pakistan by showing it that India can dismember it once again as was done in 1971, irrespective of its tactical nuclear weapons.

However, ‘Shatrujeet’ - the exercise name - means ‘one who conquers enemies’. Attempting such conquest now is only to risk mutual defeat. That this has not been grasped fully by the Indian military suggests that India has not quite moved into the twenty first century and the nuclear age.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Can India provide a new lens to the ISIS challenge in Syria?
A 97-party umbrella group, the High Negotiating Committee, and the Assad regime have agreed to a temporary pause in fighting in the Syrian conflict that went into effect in the last weekend of February. While the Syrian Kurds are party to the ceasefire, it does not, however, cover continuing military action by all parties against those defined as terrorists by the UN Security Council : the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the al- Nusra front. The latter two are to face ‘defeat’.
The challenges ahead are easy to spot. 
For full article see -
The question is how to ‘defeat’ it and how to go about doing so. It is here that India, which currently does not figure in the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) comprising of 17 states and their international organisations, could chip in.
As its predecessor Al Qaeda has proven, it is easy for an ISIS-like group to dissolve and melt away. The Al Qaeda’s dispersal from Afghanistan has aggravated problems from Pakistan to Nigeria, with Yemen and Somalia in between. If dissent against the Western sponsored world order and Western influence over Arab regimes is an idea, it will be difficult to defeat since both – the world order and its implications for Arab lands - are set to continue. Therefore, in a sense, the problem is not going to go away, even if ISIS hold over a third of Syria and of Iraq is unfixed militarily.
The military containment and rollback of ISIS is already underway.  In Iraq, several cities have been retrieved such as Tikrit and Ramadi. The Iraqi Kurds have also taken Sinjar. The Syrian Kurds have pushed the ISIS out of Kobane and are closing on Raqqa. The Western coalition airstrikes now number in five digits. Russia has also joined the bombing, even if so far it has concentrated more on helping its ally Assad fight off the Free Syrian Army combine.
Once the ceasefire is in place in the rest of Syria, the squeezing from the air can only intensify. International action from areas where foreign fighters originate is also well underway and Turkey has clamped down on financing, oil supplies and recruiting routes. Unable to recoup losses, ISIS will be set back considerably.
For full article see -
The defeat of ISIS therefore should not come about through the usual means that the notion of defeat conjures up. The means should be political. India can play a role here owing to its advantage of being equi-distant from both sides of the conflict. Its legacy of non-alignment and current foreign policy of multi-alignment places it in a suitable spot to sell some ideas on conflict resolution to its friends on both sides. As a multi-religious state in a proximate region it has a legitimate interest in amicable conflict termination.
India can push a ‘root causes’ approach in line with UN principles. It should extend to eliminating ‘pull factors’ that give rise to foreign fighters – primarily Arab and from Western countries - in the first place.
It may be counter-intuitive to suggest democracy as an antidote to ISIS, which is taken as its antithesis. However, setting back religious extremism requires giving more space to Arab nationalism. What is clear is that as long as the West finds suppressive Arab regimes more amenable, the ISIS as an idea will not wither. India as a leading post-colonial democratic state is best positioned to foreground this home truth.
The daunting Syrian peace process set to restart in the early part of March requires every national shoulder, including an Indian one. Even if it is a process characterized by ‘one hesitant step after another’, the direction cannot exclude involvement of Syria’s east at some juncture in the process, which means defeating the ISIS but with non-military means. This would entail separating the nationalist, Baathist and tribal elements from violent religious extremists. A military template only pushes them together.
Will the suggestion be taken on board? The West has the ISIS as a magnet for its dissidents, helping it pin them down in a foreign locale. It gives the West a rationale to continue shaping the Middle East. The Arab regimes too export their dissidents to ISIS territory where they can then bash them with impunity. The Russians gain the logic to remain in Syria now that their immediate task of preserving Assad is done. The Shia spectrum would not like Sunni fighters being let off the hook.
Clearly, it can only devolve on the UN, perhaps aided by external players such as India, to chip-in with the otherwise obvious suggestion. India has played a role even in its infancy in untangling intricate conflicts such as in Korea. While the world might look its way soon scouting for blue helmets, India must bring new ideas to the table. For this, it needs to once again reach into the wellsprings of its non-violent experience and philosophy. It can yet play the role of a great power, but with a difference.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

After left-liberals, Muslim are next

The ongoing fight for India’s educational spaces is easy to explain. Placing the left-liberals on the back-foot is essential for the RSS combine and the ruling party. For the RSS combine it is to wrest the intellectual space and for the ruling party to silence embarrassing questions and observations on its governance. For both, subduing this constituency is a necessary step in the shaping of the battlefield for the application of Hindutva to changing India yet to come.
For readers of this journal, who shall be subject of the ‘yet to come’ Hindutva measures, the pertinent aspect of prime time news today is the wearing down of their first line of defence. India’s Muslims are safe in India owing to liberal Hindus. Their standing up to the right wing extremists is a trench line behind which India’s Muslims breath easily. Reckoning as much, the Hindutva brigade is out to wrest them from their holdouts.
Obviously, India’s Muslims cannot be bystanders, for it is their own fortifications that are being whittled. They will surely be the next targets, once the conscience of the nation in the form of left-liberal opinion has been deterred into silence. This is not to say that Indian Muslims are already not facing the brunt. The various campaigns of beef ban, love jihad and ghar wapsi are testimony. The fact is that these and plenty of Hindutva to come yet will be further emboldened.
The left-liberals through their fight back on campuses across the country, return of awards and constant red flagging of Hindutva initiatives were punching above their weight. Not only was this hurting Mr. Modi’s aura, projected abroad, but also the electoral prospects of his party within. It is not as if Rahul Gandhi’s following of his political instincts by turning up at campuses likely scares the regime. However, with both the economy and polity being more demanding than a talent-challenged cabinet could deliver on, there was a need to stifle the constant sniping by left-liberals from the educational spaces and the media.
The well-worn principle of the intelligence game - impose on one to frighten the rest - is in play. Teesta Setalvad, Arundhati Roy and now Kanhaiya Kumar are examples. It is not for the first time Mr. Modi busies himself inaugurating the likes of Make in India and Rurban initiatives even as he maintains his telling silence. To believe that there are two scripts at play in face of such consistency would be naïve.
Clearly, making sense of the happenings is easier than thinking through what to do about them. The events in Patiala House courts bring home the predicament of the Muslim youth accused of terrorism elsewhere in provincial and lower courts where there is little reach of the national media and where media is present it is of the Hindutva persuasion. There are dozens of Vikram Singh Chouhan equivalents with their ties, as those of Chouhan, extending up the political food chain of the far right. There also are OP Sharma-like legislators, waiting to exult in impunity. India is now replicating Modi’s Gujarat.
Only awaited are national level Maya Kodnani look-alikes and these would not be long in coming once the UP election comes into view. The tactics are already bare. The attempted sullying of Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar with a terrorist and Pakistani connection makes this clear. The allegation of ABVP serving as agent provocateurs in their ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ chants shows how easily a case can be manufactured for a crackdown.
There is no cause for alarm that the left-liberals will go under easily. Currently, they are on a roll in a counter attack that is seeing their ranks swell from Delhi to Jadhavpur. If the levels of fight back sustain and translate into electoral roll back of the BJP, begun in Delhi and impelled further in Bihar, into the forthcoming elections in east India, it would decisively push back the enemy at the gates. However, till then, which means till year end, there is reason for being alert.
Both the academia and media are now divided. The push back from the right wing cannot be too long in coming. The newly appointed VCs in both Hyderabad University and JNU have right wing backing. To counter the Sardesai-Dutt-Varadarajan camp, there is the one-man-army, Arnab Goswami. The manner the Delhi police over-reacted indicates the levels to which officialdom is ready to stoop. The liberal intelligentsia is only a fraction in terms of numbers and shrillness of devotees of Messiah Modi. The latter want the Gujarat model, warts and all. The Left parties are in hibernation and the Congress searching for a leading light. This brief survey of relative strength suggests that even in case the left-liberals win this round, they would stand exhausted for the multiple fights on several fronts yet to come.
What is the state of play on the Indian Muslims front? They stand divided. The Barelvis are being propped up in state-funded gatherings to rile against those perceived as Wahabis. A Modi acolyte is Chancellor of a university. The two great universities, AMU and JMI, have been outflanked by the Center’s changed stance on their minority status. Muslim electorates are being enticed by communitarian parties such as the MIM, which for its relative gains appears willing to overlook absolute gains by the right wing party at the cost of regional and national parties. While the Vice President has on occasions voiced his concerns discreetly and courageously, there is little efficacious word from the Muslim political spectrum on the latest controversy.
Finally, there is the pull of the strategy argument that staying out will keep the right wing from maligning the liberal-left spectrum as Muslim ‘appeasers’. Staying out would keep the right wing from playing the religion card. This is a battle for the soul of Hinduism as a tolerant religion much as it is of India. Therefore, the Hindus need to expose and marginalize their home-grown extremists and wrest Hinduism back to safety.
In summation, it can be said that yet another episode in the expansion of right wing’s control of India is ongoing. This time round the stakes are rather high since silencing the left-liberals would be to mute a critique itself. This for India’s Muslims could prove an existential loss, since they serve as our shield. It stands to reason then that a view needs to be taken of our involvement, levels of this and proceeding expeditiously with its rolling out.