Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The army chief as regime spokeman?
By Ali Ahmed
The regime deployed two information war heavyweights over the past week to counter stone throwing Kashmiri youth. The first was the chief regime apologist, Chetan Bhagat, who writing in the Sunday Times, sought to deter stone throwers by advocating they be locked away for indulging in criminal activity. The second was the army chief, no spring chicken himself in info war having done his doctoral work on media and conflict. He advised Kashmiri youth that both stones and guns are futile since they cannot fight the army. He warned, Azadi is ‘never’ going to happen.
Two salvoes together might suggest to the stone throwing youth they are getting it right. It would be too much to expect the regime to be embarrassed - even on behalf of India - at the sorry spectacle of the army having to fire on unarmed stone pelters. Since Israel is at it too at the Gaza border, resulting at last count some 52 dead Palestinians (at the time of writing even as the figure rises with Nakba Day nearing), India is in the same boat as its role model, even if India’s figures are somewhat (thankfully) less. Nevertheless, stone throwers might read in the two info war stalwarts going at them that they have managed to somewhat disconcert the regime.
Of course, they would know that it is not a case of ‘ek dhakka aur do’ (‘give it one more push’). They don’t need the army chief to remind them that the army ‘will fight you (them) with all our (the army’s) force’. They don’t need reminding by the Underage Optimist (a sobriquet bestselling Bhagat has coined for himself) of the opportunity costs such as exacted of tourism, economy etc.
Hurriyet patriarch Geelani put it rightly that the army chief (true for Mr. Bhagat too) does not understand what’s going on. Attributing the ‘Intifada’ look-alike (the IIM-IIT graduate Bhagat helpfully informs that the word means ‘to shake off’) in Kashmir to Pakistani incitement by the Chief is a dead give way. But, to his credit, the army chief admits that he is still wracking his mind as to what motivates the youth (‘I am still trying to understand where did all that anger come from.’)
He has been at it for a year now. The last time he admitted mystification is when he hoped that the youth would take to arms, enabling the army to shoot them down without a qualm. While some youth have obliged, such as the doctoral student from Aligarh Muslim University and recently the assistant professor from the Kashmir University, most have stuck to stones. This has prevented the army chief from using tactics from Syria and Pakistan where, according to the chief, ‘they use tanks and air power in similar situations.’
Yet again a betrayal of ignorance, or, more likely, a willful distortion of reality – an info war tactic. There is little comparison between the Kashmiri insurgency and the terrorism in those countries. There the terrorists are rather well armed (as their Western backers (once) would know) and in instances hold, or have held, territory. This has required the application of additional firepower to dislodge them, necessitating the tactics involving tanks and air power. This is not the case in Kashmir. Where it was so in one instance, in Hil Kaka in Surankot, helicopters were deployed in an offensive role during Operation Sarp Vinash that had the terrorists vacate the area. India has not fought shy of using airpower in Aizwal. Given this, the army chief appears to be practicing intimidation, hoping the scenarios might scare where employment of pellet guns, snipers and bullets have not.             
Info war usually has multiple targets in the cross hairs. The army chief’s interview also had his own military constituency to influence. In his explanatory interview last year in the aftermath of awarding Leetul Gogoi – of the human shield infamy - with his commendation card, he admitted that one of his key focus areas was to keep up the morale of his force. This time too he had this to say, ‘My officer felt that he is being abandoned. I can’t let my officer feel that.’ Another officer had figured in an first information report, this time for his patrol shooting dead two stone pelters.
An institutional head having his internal constituency to fore amidst addressing a long standing national security challenge should give pause. Sympathetic commentary may have it that this is explicable given that a military chief is expected to give out the military’s position. To them, the political class has to temper the military position by taking a political – higher – line.
That said, strategic myopia that prevents looking beyond one’s nose, cannot be excused of those operating at the strategic level. The problem – admitted to sotto voce usually – is that the mentality of those climbing the military’s greasy pole seldom matures beyond their first appointment as corporal at the National Defence Academy. The mindset gets reinforced with successive appointments beginning with sergeant and cadet adjutant, and by the time they get flag rank, it is rather frozen. Bluntly put, the army chief has kept his strategic acumen rather well hidden so far.
As if on cue, he stepped in to spike yet another peace possibility. His last hatchet job was in puncturing Dnyaneshwar Sharma’s car, even as Mr. Sharma got into it last October, saying military operations will not be affected by appointment of an interlocutor. This time round it was to put the state’s political parties in their place. The 9 May all party meeting in Srinagar had promise. Their idea of a ceasefire had potential, so much so that even the otherwise comatose special representative of the union government, Mr. Missing-in-Action Sharma, admitted to a spying a ‘positive’ turn.
The army chief – true to form - quickly reminded the nation that the ceasefire idea was unmindful of the military’s concerns. He asked helplessly, “But who will guarantee that there won’t be fire at our men, at our vehicles? Who will guarantee that policemen, political workers, our men returning home on leave aren’t attacked, aren’t killed?’’ Using his shoulders to fire, his political master – who according to the sympathetic theory should have moderated the military’s position – instead jumped to clobber the budding peace initiative, virtually repeating the chief’s lines: ‘“Indian army has to firmly handle any terrorism which threatens the peace and harmony of Jammu and Kashmir as a state and of the rest of country. The army’s position is that it has to be firm on terrorism.” The lady minister can be excused for informing of the army’s position (‘The army’s position is that…’). She is learning on the job. Rather costly for national security, but it’s the price of democracy, foregrounding the flotsam and jetsam deposited in power by the Modi wave. It begs the question why did the government need the army chief as mouth piece, and, worse, why does the army chief need to fit the bill as spokesman?
The long and shot of all this is that as with its other policies – China, Pakistan, internal security, employment, Make-in-India etc – the government is also floundering on Kashmir. It is unable to finesse the exercise of force over the past three years with dividend on the table in relation to either Pakistani good behavior or Kashmiri quiescence. Force is meant to have purpose. If it is not yielding result on the lines expected, then it is being misapplied. Continuing with it is therefore insane, as a famous definition of stupidity has it. India could well claim victory and count its eggs. The Pakistani army chief has been helpfully providing the necessary peace verbiage for some six months now. The Pakistani bail out enables India to claim victory and call a truce.
However, choosing to instead continue with it – as is the case announced by the defence minister – implies that its purpose is to bludgeon a population, an Indian community and its constituents, Indian citizens. The cover of terrorism – so usefully passed on by our strategic partners, the United States and Israel – is to only figleaf. It is no wonder that chief trumpeter Chetan Bhagat warns, ‘While efforts must never stop to listen to the other side, the moment the youth chooses violence all bets are off.’ The youth have been left with little choice. The government is in an unnecessary ‘pehle aap’ (after you) situation with youth. Perhaps it is the one believing in ‘Ek  dhakka aur do’ (one more nudge). If their provincial government has no voice, the youth cannot expect to be allowed any. To deny them their choice of voice – stones – is to be complicit. The army chief needs introspect whether his spokesman role interferes with him bringing strategic sense to his ethnic cousin Doval’s table.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

India's internal security unravels

A characteristic of a modern nation state is monopoly over use of force within its boundaries. As an aspiring great power, it is odd that India has apparently lost this characteristic four years into the current Modi regime.

For a government that came to power touting its national security mindedness, it must be judged by whether it has delivered as it gets into election gear.

The evidence is not too far from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence at 7, Race Course Road. A satellite city, Gurugram, that houses north India’s IT hub, has been witness to an assault on religious freedoms, of which India has been rightly proud over much of its independent history.

Over the past month, weekly Friday prayers offered by members of India’s largest minority, it’s Muslims, have been disrupted by majoritarian fanatics. The Indian state has largely stood by, with its elected provincial chief of the area in his statements implying that offering collective prayers in public spaces serves as a provocation.

This is not atypical of what has occurred across India. An extensive recap of the disruption of law and order is not needed, but some illustrations are in order since the claim of loss of state monopoly over use of force is rather substantial.

Saffronite vigilantes, waving the national flag, for a variety of ‘causes’ ranging from anti-love jihad to cow protection are now a familiar phenomenon.

Motorcycle borne mobs disrupt Muslim neighbourhoods at will, even, in one case, when a Muslim dominated locality was forming up to observe Republic Day.

A murderer was honoured by depiction at a Ram Navmi tableau. Ram Navmi observances themselves are now graced by armed enthusiasts.

Far east, mobs took down a Lenin statue on election of the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Tripura.

Violence on the sidelines of protests by the Mahars in Maharashtra early this year and by Dalits across India was engineered by the saffron brigade, out to implicate lower caste protestors for the violence.

Breakdown in rule of law is visible in the letting-off of saffronite terrorists by courts, among whom figure a police officer, Vanzara; an army officer, Purohit; a politician, Kodnani; and saffron-clad Pragya Thakur.

In Central India, police claim gunning down of 37 Maoists in Gadchiroli, amongst whom it is later found number at least 8 innocent civilians - who the police went on to claim were new recruits.

The perception of impunity is such that in Kathua a group of ruling party supporters set about attempting to set off ethnic cleansing through an ‘incident(s)’ (to quote the prime minister) of gang rape and murder of a minor victim from a minority, nomadic community. In a milder instance from Assam, ruling party affiliated people put up black flags of the Islamic State, attempting to suggests extremist Muslims are proactively seeking recruits.

Investigation agencies have tracked down no clue on the mysterious disappearance of a Muslim student, Najeeb, from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus. JNU students demonstrating against other assorted impositions by the administration have been assaulted by the police on the streets of the national capital, with woman journalists covering the event being molested by the police.

Under its head, a Modi namesake and member of the Supreme Court appointed special investigation team that spared Modi in relation to his alleged role in the Gujarat carnage, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is out to outdo the Central Bureau of Investigation, upon which the highest court conferred the sobriquet ‘caged parrot’. The NIA has been rightly called ‘blind and deaf’, albeit by an opposition political figure, Owaisi, riled at perpetrators of terror bombings in his backyard, at the Mecca Masjid, being let off due to deliberately shoddy investigation and prosecution.

In short, internal security has unraveled.

First, majoritarian nationalists are now a law unto themselves. The annual orations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh supremo, its Sarsangchalak, covering national security on Vijay Dashmi, are televised live by the national broadcaster. Mocking the army, he made the very plausible claim that his footsoldiers can mobilise within three days. A famous godman has given a clue as to what these legions could do. Speaking on the way the Supreme Court verdict could go, the Art of Living founder said that there would be bloodshed by a ‘Hindu majority’ that would not ‘allow it’.

Second, the institutions of state that are to provision internal security – the police, intelligence and investigation agencies – are playing along. This is hardly the manner of being responsive to control by the democratically elected political head. Rule of law implies professional adherence to rules, legal standards, cultural norms and morality. The inability to stand up to wrongful exercise of authority is beyond the extent as might be expected from fear alone. To be sure, the institutions had been hollowed out long ago. However, the levels of departure from the desiderata is now of the order of politicizing of law and justice institutions through subversion by right wing philosophy, cultural nationalism.

Third, those that are to oversee these institutions in their ministerial role are themselves from, and, from annual sittings with the Sangh leadership, appear to be answerable to the Parivaar. Their moorings are thus outside of the Constitution they are sworn to defend. They are the conduit for the right-wing usurpation of the state apparatus and appropriation of the state for its own ends.

To be fair to them, as believers in cultural nationalism (the Prime Minister once called himself a ‘Hindu nationalist’) and in power democratically, they feel they can re-do secularism, pluralism, inclusiveness and democracy in their image. Even if embarrassed by their zealous devotees and supporters, they cannot disown them, leave alone act against them, since they are also dependent on the Parivaar’s muscle power at election time. Where necessary, the Parivaar can be reigned in, such as after Obama’s adverse observations during his Republic Day trip occasioned by the post-elections spike in anti-Christian incidents in India. PM Modi immediately intoned against such acts, putting a stop to them. That he has been unable to get himself to issue a similar statement against anti-Muslim violence by his devotees shows up equally his unwillingness as much as his inability.

Since such a juncture has been democratically arrived at, only elections can undo it. The forthcoming elections are thus crucial, offering an opportunity to wrest the monopoly of use of force back from the Parivaar to the state from those who have bartered it away for electoral gain, power and, in their lights, for the greater glory of Hinduism. Alongside several other persuasive arguments against their continuing in power – such as the mess in foreign policy in respect of both Pakistan and China – this insight from internal security is good enough reason for showing them the door.

The problem is that the between now and elections the full implication of this loss of monopoly of force by the state and its acquisition by right wing forces will likely be on full display. The closer the regime gets to sniffing a possible roll back of the Modi wave, the more likely this denouement. Precedence exists in the initial days of PM Modi’s accession to power, when the then prime minister felt that Raj Dharma had been willfully blindsided.

Friday, 27 April 2018

The 'incident': Nothing but political

The Kathua ‘incident’ (to quote the prime minister) was not in a vacuum. The assumption of the perpetrators was that impunity was at hand, since the victim was Muslim. This impression of theirs has been long in the making. Muslims have been fair game over the past four years, victims of lynchings for eating beef or love jihad. Earlier, many have been put away for long periods for alleged participation in terror bombings, even in instances of bombings for which the Hindu perpetrators have been identified and, indeed, owned up to. Most saffron terrorists have been let off by courts lately. Those who led mob violence in Gujarat have also been left. Mr. Modi’s selective verbalizing suggested to the perpetrators that the law can be winked at. Finally, the anti-Rohingya policy of the government, with its eddies in Jammu, where a set of Rohingya Muslims are refugees, emboldened them further, making them believe that the anti-Muslim sentiment would translate in support for their supposed endeavour to drive Muslim nomads from the vicinity.
Thus, the perpetrators of the Kathua ‘incident’ believed they could get away with it. They almost did, in that a coalition partner in the state government, the BJP, far right organisations, some in the community and the lawyers’ association provided them cover. However, that they were finally caught tells that there is a reversibility in the tide that manufactured this impression in their minds. The social media backlash, largely a middle class revolt against the BJP, prompted Mr. Modi to break his silence. In crisis management mode since he characterized the dastardly deeds, when taken alongside the ‘incident’ at Unnao, as ‘incidents’. Panicked, he has since gone on to try and take the political sting out of the episode, calling from foreign soil for such ‘incidents’ not to be politicised.
But, as recounted at the outset here briefly, the ‘incident’ itself is an outcome of the politics of the last two decades, that witnessed the rise of Mr. Modi and the manufacture of the wave that brought him to power. The buck must stop with him. It is not time to shift the goal posts on politicization when the tide is turning. But Mr. Modi can be expected to say that; after all it is a fight for another five years at 7 Race Course Road.
It needs little elaboration as to how Mr. Modi bears moral responsibility. As leader of his devotees, he bears a measure of responsibility for their conduct. After all, the two state ministers who resigned from the state government for supporting the perpetrators were from his party and the Hindu Ekta Manch is part of the saffron brigade of which he is the prime champion. But the more significant part of the responsibility – which this op-ed dwells on in some detail further - owes to the manner his elevation from Gujarat to Delhi has led to what is now seen as a national ethical and moral crisis. Devotees appear to be finally de-mesmerising themselves. That it takes such ‘incidents’ to awaken them speaks for the depths India has fallen and is liable to fall in case of another Modi term.
Equally bad ‘incidents’ heralded Modi’s arrival on the scene, when he – in his reading of the Gujarat carnage – could not stop it. Even so, it was as much his abdication of Raj Dharma as the complicity of his administration and the police under him in keeping perpetrators from the gallows that set the tone for the moral decline. Even if the judiciary appears to have closed the inquiries, the jury is still out on a string of incidents thereafter, be it the killing of that state’s home minister or the series of encounter killings of Muslims supposed out to avenge the carnage by targeting Mr. Modi. This helped his constituents rally round him and made for a national profile for Mr. Modi.
The vilification of Muslims across India proceeded apace. As it has turned out, the bombings then attributed to Muslims, such as at Malegaon, were found to have saffron fingerprints. The idea behind this strategy of the saffron combine was to consolidate the Hindu vote. Mr. Modi emerged as the savior, outflanking the comatose Congress government. Its foreign policy dividend was to project Pakistan as the ‘Other’. This accounts for the BJP in opposition holding the Congress led United Progressive Alliance’s government hostage over its reaching out to Pakistan, twice over: before and after 26/11. The moral decline beginning with the lack of traction for Gujarat carnage cases, persisted with the wide acceptability of the orchestrated notion of Muslim provenance of terror. The orchestration of this canard was by the Hindutva aligned think tanks and closet cultural nationalists in the strategic community, who are now in the open and ever willing to stand up and be counted on prime time. Some have billets in the national security establishment, including one at its helm currently.
Since Mr. Modi’s coming to power in Delhi, the departure from ethical governance has only widened. As if recognizing the writing on the wall, the judiciary has fallen in line, the latest evidence being its decisions in favour of Maya Kodnani on the Gujarat carnage case and for Swami Aseemanand over the Mecca Masjid blast. Full blown political capital is made from the reactivation of the Line of Control. The phone has been kept off the hook with Pakistan since the Pathankot airfield terror attack. It is another matter that the attack itself has doubtful origin in that there remain unexplained connected happenings with it, such as the wandering of the Gurdaspur police chief in the vicinity of the border seemingly to escort the infiltrating terrorists to a prospective target. The mystery has even been acknowledged in the book of an acolyte of the former defence minister from within the strategic community, Securing India: The Modi Way.  For their part, the Kashmiris have yet again been pushed back a couple of decades.
It is easy to see that the same strategy that brought Modi to power – by creating a Hindu vote bank against an internal and external ‘other’ – continues at work while the BJP is in power. This implies that the moral responsibility for the outcome rests with the ruling party, its supporting political formations, and devotees willing to suspend disbelief. They are culpable for such a situation having come to pass. Since the ruling party has profited politically from this, it is a political matter, howsoever much the perpetrators in individual ‘incidents’ are equally personally liable.
Unfortunately for the perpetrators, the fresh breeze afoot got them. There is enough time for this breeze to pick up and gather into a storm, to blow the rulers back into the fringe whence they came. It is no wonder Mr. Modi wants the traces from the events over the past two decades – the principal one of which has been the Modi wave - to be wiped clean from the ‘incident’.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

A police wallah as proto Chief of Defence Staff

The armed forces have been delivered another blow. The national security adviser, Mr. Ajit Doval, who, as everyone knows from the hagiography that accompanies his actions, has a back ground in the police and intelligence, is now to also head among his other onerous duties, the defence planning committee. A noted analyst, Manoj Joshi, discerns the new job as equivalent to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee.
In a way, the armed forces had this coming for two reasons. One is that they have not put their act together on this score for some three decades. The air force has always held out against a CDS like appointment. Frustrated, the army backtracked from its advocacy some mid last decade and then got back to renew its support for the appointment. The silent service, the Navy, has kept itself aloof from the controversy.
As a result, the three major committees that have looked at the matter since the turn of the century, the Arun Singh Committee as one of the four committees set up after the Kargil Review Committee recommendations was relatively clear on the CDS functions. The Naresh Chandra Committee set up by the comatose United Progressive Alliance government, was mealy mouthed in its recommendation, no doubt because it was headed by a heavy weight bureaucrat. Even the Shekatkar committee, that turned in its report to the previous defence minister, was unable to make a dent in the status quo.
If the army chief is to be believed on his ‘two front’ formulation, the need to have the three horses pull together has seldom been greater. The air force in its latest exercise, advertised as the largest ever, shifted from a focus on the western front to the eastern front midway through the exercise, underlining how seriously they take the collusive threat from India’s two adversaries.
This accentuates the need to optimize India’s resources devoted to defence. The prime minister in his first address to the commanders of the services at their conclave aboard the INS Vikramaditya had intoned as much. If this requires a head umpire over the three chiefs to have them work out of one script then the higher defence organization must have it. Service parochialisms cannot be allowed to stand in the way of national security. If and since the three services were reluctant to see eye to eye on this, then the appointment has to be thrust on them.
However, the quasi CDS is yet another stop gap measure. It is evident that it is not only service reluctance at play but bureaucratic chicanery. The bureaucrats are loath to have a high-ranking serviceman at the upper reaches of the hierarchy, not only for protocol and reasons of privilege but that the appointment would carry powers and responsibilities that they currently revel in, conferred by allocation of business rules dating to just prior to the Sino-Indian war. If the defence minister, the cabinet committee on security and the national security committee were to get a single point advice, they would not be able to play off one service against the other, that service veterans inform is a favoured pastime in the defence ministry.
The series of defence ministers over the tenure of this government – known to be short on talent - have not been able to fill the chair they occupied. The over-worked Mr. Jaitley (who has been in and out of hospitals) had two innings in the chair; Mr. Parrikar was home sick when in it; and the current one has yet to overcome her hangover as party spokesperson. That the defence planning committee has been foisted on the defence establishment suggests as much. 
The second - more significant if less visible - reason is that the defence planning committee is not so much to stream line the work and output of the defence sector as much as to revisit civilian control over the military. Every institution in the country has been hollowed out. The spate of exonerations by the courts of people involved in carnage and terror – specifically Maya Kodnani and Swami Aseemanand respectively – and the Supreme Court’s reluctance to get to grips with the mysterious death of fellow judge, Loya, suggests that the armed forces are the last institution standing. Since their professional and apolitical character makes it difficult to trammel them, as has been done with the media, police and bureaucracy, they need further lynchpins to tie them down.
The hurried setting up a defence planning council through executive order with barely a year to go to elections can only have a rationale outside of the strategic lamppost under which most would look. There is more to be done in the reset of India over the forthcoming term of the government, once the matter of elections between then and now is out of the way. The declining support in the people at large and the masses after a series of hit-wickets by the Modi government, such as demonetization, general service tax, and the laxity in condemning and action against rapes, polarization appears the only card left. Retention of power can now only be through letting the foot-soldiers of Hindutva crawl through society. On this count, the only institution left that can put the foot-soldiers of Hindutva back into the bottle needs tight control. Furthermore, the armed forces need an ideological dose of cultural nationalism, that can be safely administered when the government is back in saddle. Consequently, the committee needs to also be seen in the light of civil-military relations, in addition to any strategic sense it may make.
It is for this reason that the national security adviser, renowned as an intelligence czar, has been appointed as head of this committee. He has long had a foot in the Hindutva camp. In fact, he can be credited with organizing the support for the Modi wave within the strategic community well before it became a tide. The social media blitz of 2013-14 by the brigade of saffron trolls, that led up to the Modi tsunami, also has an intelligence man’s fingerprints all over it. With his mastery of the national security apparatus and his impeccable ideological credentials, besides a lifetime in high risk appointments, has him well suited for the post.  
The links between his erstwhile think tank and the military are deep. There are several retired members of the brass associated with the VIF. On leaving its directorship he had handed over the reins to a retired army chief. Thus, he has a constituency in the military, that in turn has amongst the ranks of its veterans some hypernationalists. In effect, he has an organic support base that would not find it odd for him to be virtually at the military apex, more or less displacing the minister. If there are doubts in the strategic community they can outshout the opposition. Not to forget, the army chief is a Doval acolyte and ethnic cousin, who owes his elevation to the rank over two of his seniors to intercession on his behalf by someone. 
It’s a job tailormade for Mr. Doval. In discussions on the CDS appointment, the usual refrain is that the appointment should carry weight in the hierarchy conscious military by being either be first among equals among the chiefs as another four-star general since, in India’s case, a five-star general makes for field marshal, a rank not readily conferred. Though Mr. Doval has cabinet rank in his capacity as national security adviser, he would be rather pleased with the arrangement on two counts. One, as a policeman he would have likely nursed a grouse against the military’s chip on the shoulder against counterparts in khakis. Two, as a military school product, he would have dreamed – as with any other cadet - of making it to general rank.
In short, the defence planning council has more to it than meets the eye. Its true role will only emerge if this government has a term following this one and then, it would not only be in better strategizing by the Indian military, but in revising the very ethos of the military.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

The Hindutva project and India's military

As per its chief, Amit Shah, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) intends to get 50 per cent of the votes at the next hustings. It has enough time to put its act together, having been forewarned of the mood through its losses in the recent by-elections, particularly in the stronghold of India’s most electorally significant state, Uttar Pradesh. Even though it now runs the governments across India’s landmass in some nineteen states, the ambitious figure set by Amit Shah for the BJP showing is seemingly implausible.

It is nevertheless the kind of figure the ruling party needs to get on full throttle with its political project. Liberal conspiracy theorists see the BJP as the political front of the wider right wing ‘parivar’ led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The pseudo- cultural political formations comprising the parivar reputedly have a political project for the transformation of India in mind, termed Hindutva. To the extent the BJP is not quite a normal conservative political party, but a Trojan horse in national politics of the parivar, it is set out to implement the Hindutva project. This is not a conspiracy theory as much as a self-confessed project of the ruling party.

Since the political masters of the military – the current day lead party in the ruling coalition – answer to a far right conglomerate with uncertain obligation to the national Constitution, it bears reflection as to what the Hindutva political project implies for the military. The ruling party has now been in charge for nearly two terms over two separate stints in government as the primary partner in the coalitions. The clue therefore lies in how the ruling party has approached civil-military relations over its two terms.

The two terms are markedly different, in that the first term was under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was very much an insider to Delhi’s politics and a traditionalist. Thus, besides showing its fangs early in its innings in the sacking of the naval chief by the defence minister, himself a leader of a marginal party in the coalition out to prove his loyalty to the ruling party, it left the military largely to its professional self.

The tone was set by the nuclear blasts early in Vajpayee’s second stint as prime minister. Drawing the right conclusions from the blasts and their echo across the border in Pakistan, the government launched the Lahore peace initiative. In the event, the initiative was aborted by the Pakistani army’s intrusion into Kargil.

The conflict aftermath kept the military to the professional till, particularly with Kashmir boiling over. Operation Parakram, launched in wake of the parliament attack, set the stage for the remainder of the Vajpayee tenure. That the army could not deliver conventional retribution led to the mobilization being covered up as coercive diplomacy. Suitably chastened, the military busied itself with reworking its conventional doctrine.

The second term of the BJP has been under an outsider, a former provincial chief minister, out to overturn the Lutyen’s Delhi-based ‘establishment’. An elaborately manufactured electoral ‘wave’ led to elevation of the chief minister to 7 Race Course Road. The military was part of the forming of the wave, with its veteran’s rally in Rewari enabling its build up, along with other momentum-imparting factors as the anti-corruption foray by former military man, Anna Hazare. The arrival for the first time in three decades of a majority government and its promise of a corruption-free development agenda, conferred on the ruling party greater scope for re-engineering governance, and, at one remove, India.

The national security policy promised was a muscular one.

The stage was set by first creating the illusion of working for peace, with a hand outstretched towards Pakistan’s civilian government. That was equally speedily withdrawn, with the Line of Control reactivated in the very first year of the government. The situation along the LC has been steadily downhill since, with the surgical strikes across it being the high water mark.

On the eastern front, there was a similar reverse, with the front being seen as the second of a ‘two (and half front)’ war. Current-day headlines portend a Doklam II, with China reportedly resuming road construction activity that led up to the seventy three day stand-off last year. The additional ‘half’ front presumably is the prognosticated tie up between fifth columnist Muslims and the Maoists in the hinterland.

Even as the military has the two-front mantra as the government’s strategic doctrine for a guide, it has been left out in the cold without the wherewithal to fend off its two collusive enemies. Its vice chief recently let on to the parliamentary standing committee on defence that the decline in the defence budget to its lowest level in relation to the gross domestic product since the 1962 War was insufficient to cover for inflation and provide for the 125 odd procurement projects the military currently has underway, leave alone cater for modernising its equipment of which sixty per cent is vintage.

In short, the military is left to tackle an active western front and potentially active eastern front and to the extent it falls short, it would be left holding the can.

The government has taken care to have an amicable army chief, superseding two of his seniors. The Chief has been faulted not only by the liberal portion of the commentariat but also by sundry politicians and the opposition for being rather inclined towards the party line of the ruling party. The army chief’s latest speech was at the right wing think tank, the Vivekananda International Foundation.

Controversial godman, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was invited to address a naval function. The air chief in his remarks at the air force day was criticized for being overly welcoming of the controversial turn in the Rafale deal. These and ever increasing incidence of such instance are seen as a departure from the hitherto apolitical utterances and practice by the military.

Clearly, the military cannot remain unscathed from Hindutva’s reset of Hindustan. However, it is intriguing that the military appears as being sidelined, even as its derring-do – such as in the surgical strikes - is used as political capital by the ruling party. This needs an explanation.

The Hindutva political project of a reset of Hindustan is an expansive one, which down the road could conceivably include rewriting the Constitution. Traditionalist institutions, such as the army, need to be softened timely for the rollout of the more consequential aspects of the project over the coming term of the ruling party.

The military – so far - sees itself as professional, apolitical and secular. The ante on the professional part is upped by the need to defend the borders on the two fronts. The military is also given full play in a portion of the ‘half front’, Kashmir. A professionally engaged military is unlikely to have any interest, attention span and energy for political pushback. Keeping the military to the professional till is termed objective civilian control of the military.

The apolitical characteristic - glimpsed earlier - is endangered in the military leadership buying into the ideology of the ruling right wing formations. The self-confessed ideological agenda of the ruling dispensation is to revise secularism. The secular characteristic of the military is alongside its sister characteristic – apolitical - in direct line of fire. The precedence set of deep selection of the military leadership enables elevation to its apex of those who show such propensities. This form of civilian control of the military is termed subjective control.

Seen is a blend of objective and subjective civilian control in action. In short, the Hindutva project entails a movement away from objective civilian control to subjective civilian control. It is at the expense of the apolitical and secular character of the military, even as the professional characteristic is temporarily boosted to cover the dilution of the former two. Even this boost is a chimera in that the military continues as a supplicant for the monies to meet professional ends.

From a civil-military relations perspective, it promises to be an interesting second term for the Modi government, should Mr. Shah deliver as he reckons. Since objective civilian control is a characteristic of democratic states, the shift away portends alongside a shift to an authoritarian and ideological state.

Friday, 23 March 2018
Is there an Indian 'deep state'?
t stands counter to democratic values, the presence of a deep state in either a matured or a putative form is an existential danger to democracy. Since a prerequisite for democracy is eternal vigilance, a timely and periodic scan of democratic credentials of a country is necessary. Though seemingly counter-intuitive to subject India to such test, it is unfortunately no longer unthinkable to do so. 

The concept of 'deep state' sits easy on Pakistan. As it readies to observe the seventieth iteration of Pakistan day on 23 March, the most significant aspect of its history that overhangs its present is that it has been run by the army for over half its independent existence. This legacy accounts for the rumoured 'deep state' in Pakistan that comprises a core military and intelligence elite. 

The 'deep state' in Pakistan is credited with the continuity in Pakistan's policies, such as anti-India proxy war or seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan. The deep state is immune to democratic shifts, taking control of government policies on India, nuclear matters and Afghanistan. Its notion of national security has a few well-recognised elements such as Pakistan as a national security (garrison) state; protection and expansion of ideological frontiers of Islam; preservation of corporate interest of the military; and internal (leveraging domestic resources) and external (allies) balancing in a manner as to offset the power asymmetry with India. 

That a deep state has its own agenda is clear from the Pakistan case. Take for instance the price Pakistan has paid for its internal balancing measure of relying on jihadi assets for furthering proxy wars in India and Afghanistan. On the surface this appears contrary to Pakistan's national interest of internal security and stability. The deep state appears to believe that this is an affordable price to pay and that it has control over the Frankenstein propensities of such enterprises. The deep state is thus an amorphous entity autonomous of accountability. 

The deep state has continuity that kitchen cabinets of democratic regimes do not have. The kitchen cabinet of Indira's days dispersed when non-Congress governments were in power. The deep state is narrower than the Establishment. In the US, the Trump phenomenon points to the disaffection of the Trumpian voter with the Establishment, identified with the political elite in Washington, DC. In Pakistan's case, the incestuous Establishment reputedly includes prominent families of the industrial and feudal elite. The deep state is thus in a more potent category all by itself. 

Given that it stands counter to democratic values, the presence of a deep state in either a matured or a putative form is an existential danger to democracy. Since a prerequisite for democracy is eternal vigilance, a timely and periodic scan of democratic credentials of a country is necessary. Though seemingly counter-intuitive to subject India to such test, it is unfortunately no longer unthinkable to do so. 

An Indian deep state can easily be dismissed. India is the world's largest democracy and the most long standing one in the developing world. Its record as a procedural democracy is unmatched and relatively unblemished. With the usual platitudes out of the way, this commentary gets down to the business of gauging the extent to which a deep state might exist (if not quite thrive) in India. 

Recently, the leading light of the pseudo-cultural formation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, said that his foot-soldiers can mobilize in three days. He was contrasting their alacrity to arms to the army's comparatively slovenly (to him) mobilisation. One reason that Operation Parakram did not go the full distance from coercive diplomacy to conventional war was the long time lag for the army to get into operational gear, particularly its lumbering strike corps. To its credit the army has since cut this time down, as the name Cold Start doctrine suggests. The leading light of the RSS was of course unmindful of the different order of magnitude that mobilizing to lynch unsuspecting skull cap wearers is from mobilization for war. But that detail did not detain the head honcho of the political formation and its group of affiliates. Comparing Hindutva inspired mobs out for mayhem in some neighbouring Muslim inhabited ghetto with the army off to war is like comparing apples to oranges. 

Irrespective of this inconvenient observation, the comparison had a purpose. The Sarsangchalak was making the point that the Indian state has lost the monopoly over force. There is now in India a power-that-be outside of the state, which as is well-known is notably averse to some (if not all) constitutional provisions. This is not a new or emergent reality. The riot system has been around since Partition. In a famous instance, a regional satrap had apparently given the rioters 72 hours to be able to wreak their vengeance. In the interim, the subverted and spineless police allegedly misdirected army columns coming to aid of civil authority. The army's after action report has not been leaked (as yet). 

A religious figure, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, recently pointed to the potential for violence in case the verdict in the Ayodhya land dispute was to go against any community. In one interpretation, while it is taken for granted that the Muslims, if disappointed by the verdict, would go down the route of terrorism, radical Hindus are expected to riot. Here the RSS supremo's boast on his organisation's mobilizing capability needs to be factored in. Essentially, Ravi Shankar is informing of possible mob violence. Doing so can be taken as cautionary, as also as intimidating. The latter is in relation to Muslims, who have been at one end of Ravi Shankar's unilateral intervention in the case for an out-of-court settlement. The possibility of mob violence as a result of its judgment cannot but exercise the Supreme Court to be cautious. It is no wonder that the august body ruled that there be no undue activism by sundry busy bodies, such as Subramaniam Swamy, while it deliberates on the matter. 

The portended violence is not necessarily emotive, arising from primordial affiliations of religion and identity. It is rather an orchestrated likelihood, particularly since the ruling party that has perfected the riot system - that was originally honed by the erstwhile ruling party, the Congress. It has deployed the system to electorally benefit from resulting polarization, for instance, in Muzzafarnagar and more recently in Kasganj. Since the development mantra is unlikely to work a second time round (the first having been in 2014) and in light of its record on this score over the past four years, the need for riots is nigh. The recent losses in Phulpur and Gorakhpur only serve to heighten the need for a mother-of-all-riots. It is with good reason that the opposition party called for a delay in the Supreme Court's judgment on the Ayodhya case till after the national elections. 

What the discussion suggests is that there is an emergent deep state in India that would like to mould the democratic verdict in a particular way. At this juncture in the discussion, the question arises as to the extent of reach of rightist political formations into the state itself. The depth of this reach into the heart of the Indian state is the level of current day articulation of the deep state in India. 

The sub-judice case that prompted spillover into the open domain of the internal dissent within the highest court of the land provides a clue. The case in question is the mysterious death of one CBI court judge and the subsequent (perplexing) exoneration of a high-profile political personage in the case of 'encounter' deaths dating to 2005 in Gujarat. The deaths, initiated at the behest of an intelligence bureau input, were instrumental in elevating the national profile of the provincial head there, which over the following years acquired increasing prominence riding on the planted and motivated canard of a fifth columnist minority. The aim was the manufacture of an impregnable vote bank and turn India into a majoritarian democracy. 

The ploy succeeded as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), tottering from scam to scandal, did not have the gumption for a judicial follow through. By the end of the UPA period, the beginnings of the deep state were evident, but outside the state itself. The formation and direction of the troll brigades to bring down the UPA and take over the anti-corruption agenda is evidence. The wannabe deep state then is now the deep state. 

The Indian deep state has had a short existence so far. Faced with national elections, and an uncertain outcome, it may not grow to becoming a deep state in the conventional definition. The need for self-perpetuation, and its self-justifying rationale of preserving the good work done so far of strides towards a Hindu India, require that elections return the ruling party to power. Self-preservation implies insuring against judicial accountability. Since to them aims justify the means, it promises to be an interesting run up to national elections.