Tuesday, 6 March 2018


A political army or an apolitical one?

Lt Gen Devraj Anbu, commanding general in Udhampur heading India's northern command was posed a question at a press conference at Srinagar. Responding to a question, he said, "We don't communalise martyrs, those making statements don't know the Army well." The context of the question was the statement by Member of Parliament Asaduddin Owaisi, who, as is his wont, was taking on Hindu communalists who denigrate Muslims.

Owaisi, in the context of the details emerging of the martyrs in the Sanjuwan camp attack by terrorists, had taken potshots at the so-called '9-PM nationalists' who delight in questioning the patriotism of Muslims in general and Kashmiri Muslims in particular. He said, "In this (Sanjuwan attack) incident, five Kashmiri Muslims have laid down their lives. Why aren't you talking about it? This is a reminder to all those nationalists who question my integrity and the love for this country." 

The good general's taking down Owaisi a peg or two was lapped up by the 9-PM media. The general was seen as buttressing the army's secular credentials, while the head of the largely Hyderabad based party, AIMIM, was put in his place. 

Missed in the aftermath was the political position taken by Anbu. 

Anbu is head of India's largest field army. Surely, it must have the largest headquarters too, one that contributes to Anbu's situational awareness and provides him options for considered decision making. This headquarters also has elements of an information warfare (IW) staff. The IW staff no doubt monitors the media, including newspapers, television and social media. That it is efficient and effective, and has the ears of the general, is clear from the general going on in the interview in question to talk about how social media is contaminating young minds in the Valley. His staff surely conveyed to the general that Owaisi the previous day had remarked on the Sanjuwan camp attack.

It can be assumed Anbu also received options of response, since his press conference was impending and questions related to the Owaisi statement could be anticipated. Thus, Anbu was prepared by his staff. No doubt he had his answer up his sleeve when he was shot the question. So it's not an off the cuff response by the general, but a thought through reply. That it provided fodder for Owaisi baiters provides a hint as to who or which kind of Indian found the answer heartwarming. 

The assumption of good staff work suggests that there were other answers served up for the generals' choice. After all, Anbu was himself a staff officer in the temple of staff officers, the Military Secretary's Branch, where the top order of the army's staff qualified officers are posted. One answer simple enough to divine is 'No comments.' It would have sent out Anbu's displeasure at Owaisi's words, without getting into the mud with him.

Another answer Anbu did not choose was to acknowledge the politician's observation. The politician was, by his account, taking pride in the Muslimness of the martyrs, exulting in the fact that Muslim blood mingles with that of their fellow comrades as does their sweat, rejoicing that Muslims have a role in keeping this country together, happy that this shuts up Muslim baiters, sanguine that their sacrifice will be acknowledged as proof - even when none is needed - of Indian Muslims on the frontline and numbering among the dead while there. 

This opinion piece would have turned out differently had Anbu empathized with the politician and his Muslim constituency. It would have shown Anbu had knowledge of his Muslim brethren and fellow citizens. It is a pity that the general needs reminding that Muslims feel pride in seeing Azharuddin take stance, in Sania's back hand, in Hariz's rise to army commander rank, in the long rule of the Khans over Bollywood, and, likewise, are proud to see Muslims number in awards lists and that of the army's martyrs. Their pride is in one of their kind contributing on par with others in a national endeavor. What is better advertisement of a sense of ownership of and belonging to the nation? 

Obviously, just as Anbu accuses Owaisi of ignorance of the army, surely Anbu can likewise be challenged on his knowledge of and empathy with fellow citizens, Muslims. Or does he take the stereotype Muslim conjured up by the media seriously? As army commander in a Muslim majority state, commanding troops battling insurgency amidst a disaffected population, an affirmative answer to this would be troubling. 

If this is the Muslim reaction to seeing their ilk up front in the battle against terror, it behooves on their parliamentarian to give voice to it. Owaisi needs highlighting this - if in his inimitable fashion - so that even those deafened by the majoritarian din can hear. 

Additionally, Anbu surely must know of the siege Muslims have been over the past half-decade. Is he not aware what the Modi wave has done to them politically? Anbu watches primetime too. The marginalization of Muslims, using one stick after another to beat them with - triple talaq, lynchings, love jihadis - has been upfront and in-your-face. They have to go the extra distance to overturn the labouriously contrived canard that terrorism is a Muslim brand. 

Following the Sanjuwan attack, there was vile suggestion that the Kashmiris in the ranks had snitched to the terrorists where to find the army's solar plexus and hit. Now, the army is reportedly doing a survey of the neighbourhoods of its installations, no doubt with some or other template in mind of subversibility or otherwise of that neighbourhood. Would it harbor terrorists who would at an opportune moment upturn normality? This is not restricted to Kashmir. My neighbourhood far south, abutting Owaisi's constituency also sees the army barracks lined with sandbag topped walls and bunkers that could do Kashmir proud. We are suspect, because the army has drawn up some stereotype. Maybe they would find Neyaz Farooquee's 'An Ordinary man's guide to radicalism' helpful. 

With a ghetto for a pocket borough, Owaisi has little choice but to be combative. He could not have passed up an opportunity to dispel the notion that Muslims belong to Pakistan. In this, statistics such as over 1500 J&K policemen dead in the line of duty are vital ammunition for the community to break out. Anbu shot the messenger at the cost of the message.

Not a week later the army yet again showed its stripes. Its army chief, seemingly unmindful of north east states going to the polls, extravagantly intoned that the illegal immigration into the north east, that profited a particular regional party, was a proxy war by Pakistan, and - hold your breath - China. His apologists suggested that he was speaking his mind under Chatham House rules, at a closed door event. Even if so, the leak was well timed. When the regional party head - Badruddin Ajmal of AIUDF - remonstrated that his is a democratic and secular political outfit, the army PR minders rose to put him in his place, stating, "There is nothing political or religious in the talk." Yet another Muslim politician perfunctorily struck down, when the community has no national level leadership. Recall the farewell speech in parliament for the outgoing vice president by the prime minister. Muslim politicians are fair game. What else is politics and indulgence in it? 

As for the Kashmiri leaders, there is nothing they can get right. AFSPA cannot be rolled back. The Kashmiri education system requires overhaul. Its madrasas require surveillance. The plea for talking with Pakistan can be drowned out by the artillery duels on the LC. Stone throwers are over ground workers. The lodging of an FIR when two were killed recently was a step too far. All justified solely on security grounds. There is nothing political to it. 

While there is a potential dread in the direction the army is headed, it can yet be redeemed. At a recent seminar at the Punjab University, Chandigarh, one of Anbu's counterparts, the western command head, distanced himself from the formulation of 'two front war', cautioning against war with a nuclear armed neighbour. His other Shimla-based colleague went further. He said, "Kashmir still remains far from normal despite the strategy of matching response being followed by both nations. Be that as it may, there is no shying away from the fact that a lasting peace can only be found at the negotiating table." Both seemingly registered dissent at the (ruling) party line toed by their boss, the army chief. 

More importantly, the training command head likened Pakistan to a mirror on the wall, saying, "We need to look at it and not make the same mistakes, particularly in light of growing radicalisation and intolerance within our own society over mundane issues." Anbu could take heed and not play to the gallery of the radicalized, radicalism in this case being of the saffron hue. 

Clearly, then the apolitical status of the army is under stress. While those cautioning against going down this route are also taking a political position - against penetration of a particular ideology into the army - they are status quoists, calling out the politically active and for a return to the pristine. The army must reclaim the apolitical island for itself.

Friday, 2 March 2018


The General is at it again

He may wish to be remembered as a tough operationally inclined commander who stood up to the Chinese along the Line of Actual Control and brought hell down on Pakistanis on the Line of Control (LC). It is not a co-incidence that the Uri bulge is currently the hottest place on the LC. Rawat, served there when in the battalion, and later as a division commander on that portion of the front.

However, it appears he also wishes to leave a legacy of a no-nonsense hard-talking chief. With a doctorate and a US Command and General Staff College course under his belt, followed with military leadership experience in an international environment, with the UN as commander of a brigade group in its mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it can be inferred that he feels somewhat circumscribed by the norms of discreet utterances that go with being a service chief. Instead, he wishes to step out of a stifling tradition of silent – even if tough – chiefs.

The last time a Chief felt so constrained was some fifty years back, when Jayanto Nath Chaudhuri decided to let off steam writing for the Statesman anonymously. Snide remarks at Krishna Rao’s proximity to the Gandhi family refer to his complimentary statement on the Congress party as head of Eastern Command in the context of an election in one of the seven sister states.

The tradition of keeping a low profile has been reinforced over the years. With an occasional aberration.Former Army Chief Sunith Francis Rodrigues frustration on Kashmir came through with his comment describing Pakistanis as ‘bandicoots’ and his take on political good health also being the military’s business. His concern was prompted by the repeated political mishandling of situations in those days that brought the Army from the barracks to the streets.

Similarly, Ved Malik’s frank admission of the state of the army at the end of a decade of defence austerity on the eve of Kargil War, when he said that the Army will make do with what it has, drew frowns. VK Singh’s run in’s with the Defence Ministry are too many to recount; suffice it to refer to his moving forces then under a relative’s command – a wanna-be chief – for spooking South Block on the night before his ‘date of birth’ court case.

The liberal manner in which Bipin Rawat has been giving voice to his opinions indicates that he feels better positioned than chiefs hitherto. He last commented on the education system in Jammu and Kashmir wanting surveillance of madrassas, besides asking why a map of the state needs to grace classroom walls when a map of India is quite enough.

Rawat warned off stone throwers last year, but has had little impact on the youth but more on his own soldiers. An Army Major last year, taking his chief seriously, precipitated the ‘human shield’ episode last year. He was awarded by Rawat for his pains. This year another Major taking his chief at his word ended up with his name on a Kashmir police FIR, when his patrol shot dead two stone throwers.

Unfazed, Bipin Rawat has waded into yet another controversy. To those monitoring the strategic discourse, his take on illegal immigration was of a piece with the widely and strongly held view that Bangladeshi immigrants upsetting the demographic balance in the north east are a national security threat. Bipin Rawat went further: he voiced what was said sotto voce so far in military circles, that political interests are enabling this in reference to the perceived benefit derived by the Congress from its ‘vote bank’ among the illegal immigrants.

Outside military circles, there was no compunction to keep quiet on this. The long-retired General SK Sinha, displaying his right wing credentials, made an extensive report to the President in 1998. (No stranger to politics, in his day, he had reportedly been outpointed by General Arun S.Vaidya for the chief’s seat, supposedly because Vaidya was seen as pro-dynasty. Vaidya’s chestful of medals as against Sinha’s operational record presumably did not matter.)

Separately, in an article he wrote that he had been warned of the threat posed by immigrants by an eastern army commander in 1992, late Lt Gen Jameel Mehmood, a Muslim, who – or so Sinha claimed – had made a negative observation on this to the army headquarters. He used a Muslim’s shoulders to fire his right wing ammunition. As Governor of Assam, he leaned over right even further, projecting a local warlord’s military exploits in beating off the (Muslim) Moghul army. (Stone throwing is today his legacy in Kashmir, since he set off the peoples’ agitations with his munificence to the Amarnath Yatra board with Kashmiri land.)

Privy to strategic literature generated by think tanks in Delhi in particular, Rawat is not remiss in taking illegal immigration as a looming national security threat. A think tank nursed by his headquarters, the Center for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), has this to say: ‘Such a massive inflow did not go undetected, but official apathy and the compulsion of electoral vote bank politics allowed it to continue. This was an invite to disaster as it radically altered the demographic balance in many areas. A close scrutiny of the population increase since 1951 indicates a high population growth in the state presumably due to the heavy influx of the illegal migrants.’

The serving army officer who wrote the article went on to write a book on it, published under CLAWS aegis (Changing Demographics in India's Northeast and Its Impact on Security, New Delhi: KW Publishers, 2016); no doubt with the same conclusion as his article: ‘While local political compulsions have led to a soft stance in the approach of the security forces in their operations against insurgent groups, a decisive and resolute action is the need of the hour to thwart any reprehensible designs on India’s security while taking steps to lower ethnic tensions as well as checking illegal migration into the state.’ It does not take much imagination to know which party is being referred to as profiting politically, for the Tarun Gogoi led Congress was in power for a decade and half.

Bipin Rawat’s speech writer, probably a bright young Colonel from the perspective planning directorate, cannot be faulted for picking up the trope from a website he thought was credible and with official imprimatur. A Colonel could not have gone further. It takes a Bipin Rawat for that. He perhaps recalled some intelligence briefing from his time at the headquarters in Dimapur, when he commanded a corps in charge of India’s own far-east, including southern Assam. He was not updated that in the last elections the AIUDF count went down from 18 to 13 and its chief, Badruddin Ajmal, lost his Dhubri seat, besides failing to play kingmaker by weighing-in – as he perhaps intended - on the side of the Congress.

Rawat as is now his wont went out on a limb on three counts.

First is for which he has been roundly (and rightly) upbraided, needlessly putting a prime time spin on his observation. No doubt taking the name of a ‘Muslim’ party helped him elevate the issue as a national security threat. Now that the Congress is down and out, merely alluding to some unnamed political party making political capital would not help.

The supposed ‘Muslimness’ of the AIUDF was necessary to prop up the Chief’s second observation: that the illegal immigration is the face of silent and glacial proxy war. It is no wonder Ajmal went out of his way to point out that his party is based on ‘democratic and secular’ values.

Third, it is not enough to have the ISI as bogeyman anymore. The CLAWS article’s analysis was too staid for the general. It had said: ‘A shift in demographic pattern has given an opportunity to fundamentalist groups to exploit the demographic fault lines in the state and the Northeast. SATP lists 14 Muslim insurgent groups, out of which Muslim Tigers Liberation of Assam (MULTA) has been active in the areas adjoining Bangladesh. The linkages of these groups with ISI and other insurgent groups in the region pose a long term threat.’ This is both too staid for Rawat and it pitches India at Pakistan’s level. Nothing less than the ‘northern’ neighbor as threat was called for, and, look and behold, we have a speech that measures up to Rawat’s stature.

Rawat’s apologists have it that he was under the impression that he was at a closed door seminar and speaking under Chatham House rules. Be that as it may, Rawat would be unfazed by the storm that he set off. Not only is he now used to it, but he is sanguine that by speaking the (ruling) party line he is on safe ground.

No wonder a predecessor of his as chief, now in government, came to his defence, saying, the army chief can be allowed to speak as he wishes. It needs remembering that the front runner to the chief’s job that Rawat nabbed – Lt Gen Bakshi - made the mistake of underplaying a cross border raid in mid-2016 into Myanmar, depriving the Modi-Doval duo of yet another feather to go with others from their ‘surgical strikes’.

To be fair to Rawat, it is not that he does not know which side the bread is buttered, but he perhaps believes what he says. And therein lies the rub.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

The Army: Introspection is warranted

Basant Rath, a J&K cadre IPS officer, writing in The Wire (5 February, https://thewire.in/221165/citizen-shukla-secular-character-indias-police/) berates a senior in the IPS of the UP cadre for taking the oath to build the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. He calls for the commitment of uniformed officials the Constitution. He was reacting to a social media video of his IPS senior participating in a right wing organization’s ceremony at which attendees took the oath on building the Ram Mandir, that went viral recently. This invited Rath’s wrath. Quite at the same time, there was another video clip that went viral on social media. This one showed an army officer, presumably serving in J&K, motivating his listeners with cultural nationalist trope. This suggests Rath’s advice is valid for all uniformed services, including the army.
This is a counter intuitive claim since the army is known for its apolitical and secular character. That the army needs reminding of this commonplace is unfortunate. In the clip in question (https://youtu.be/1WALwLOYJV8), the officer claims prior service in J&K and attests to have had a trigger-happy time. Downing rum, he is seen dashing the glass to smithereens against his head, after the fashion of para-commandos who reputedly do so in their messes on occasion. The officer in question sports the para wings on his chest. He is perhaps participating in the annual Republic Day ritual in which the Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) are invited to drinks at the Officers’ Mess. JCOs reciprocate by inviting the officers over to the JCOs’ mess on Independence Day.
The officer is entitled to his views. However, since he is sharing these and speaks in the video in Hindi, he is apparently speaking to persons below officer rank. Since he is in uniform and in an official capacity, he has to exercise caution in airing his views. Assuming that drink has loosened his tongue, it is worth taking him at his spoken word and reviewing his spoken reputation as a Rambo of sorts. The army can do without misguided elements within its ranks in an age of the ‘Strategic Corporal’ (an age in which media amplified tactical decisions potentially have strategic effects). He certainly must be prevented from misusing the cover of AFSPA and the human terrain in Kashmir for his pathologies. Even if the officer’s views are forged at the increasingly respectable fount of cultural nationalism, there is no official legitimacy conferred on such ideological views as yet – particularly since the poem he recites reportedly is of genocidal content.
There is no guarantee the army would take appropriate action. The army is liable to clamp down on social media footprint rather than address its warts. The ‘human shield’ episode of last year – endorsed by no less than the army chief with a commendation - indicates a certain permissiveness in the internal social environment within the army. That perhaps emboldened the mentioned officer to go the distance in his motivational talk. Another misstep by the army in course correction would lead to the discourse only expanding and nauseating the conversation and exchanges within the army. The army needs to be vigilant on this score and officers’ circumspect.
Little propels the military (universally) to action more than a threat to its corporate values and culture. It is best advised of the extant threat to these and from within. It is time for the army to back track from the limb it went on to in the ‘human shield’ episode. Then, under seeming assault from the liberal media and usual suspects in the commentariat (including this columnist), it closed ranks behind unacceptable behavior. The price has been in a fraying of its internal fabric. Internally, an advisory could serve as a deterrent to help the army track back to safety. It would reinforce traditional norms and messaging, while warning off closet purveyors of cultural nationalism lurking in the officer corps. 
Externally, a leak of the action taken in disciplining this particular officer is warranted. It would show those interested in the good health of the army that the contaminating possibilities from the spread of majoritarian nationalism in India are contained. The virulence is particularly rabid in the northern cow-dust belt: the catchment areas of majority of its officers and its soldiery. Besides it would reassure the Kashmiris – in whose area the officer boasts of multiple tenures – that the security is in the right hands.
Rambos are never absent from a ticking force. The challenge is to positively articulate their energy, innovation, spirit, strength and enterprise. Even so, not all who project a Rambo personality are strong internally. Some are hiding from or running away from inherent infirmities. They use the cover of outsized moustaches, swagger, braggadocio and bluster to impersonate fighting men. It is unclear which category the officer in question belongs. In either case, there is a requirement of supervision, lest the autonomy of subunit command is taken as license to impose on the populace – the center of gravity in subconventional operations - or subject them to gratuitous violence.  
This is the case with the terrorists too. Their recent violent grab from police custody of a terrorist at a hospital in Srinagar is a case to point. There are swashbucklers among them, with sterling fighting and leadership qualities. In the case of the hospital attack, while the participants apparently had the gumption to pull off a rescue, they had no compunction of sparing a hospital as the site. They too are self-indulgent in the liberal rope they are mistakenly bestowed with by society. Most are undeserving dregs, drop outs and ‘losers’ in Trumpian terms.
The community, in the false belief that the wider interest of liberation requires their forbearance, allows them untold liberties – including unspeakable ones with womenfolk. Often the community’s choice as to how long and to what extent to persist with the challenge to state authority is snatched away. Those profiting from the troubles take charge, relegating original aims and superseding traditional authority structures. This happened in the late nineties in Kashmir. The phenomenon appears to be making a reappearance. Kashmiris would require exerting to reacquire agency, lest they are ground down yet again.
Troubled times bring out not only the best in men – on both sides – but also the worst. A conflict environment – as it gets increasingly brutalized – allows for impunity for both sides to indulge their worst instincts. Supervisors and handlers respectively have little interest in monitoring and restraining fighters. While for terrorist there is little incentive to rein them in; for the army, a misunderstanding that morale suffers holds up action.
While Pakistan can be expected to shed crocodile tears, and use the troubles to further its agenda, that India is increasingly in the same boat is a new dimension. The Hindutva lobby, poised to use the Kashmir issue – among other Muslim centric issues – to hoist themselves into another stint in power have no love lost for Kashmir or Kashmiris. In so far as these are body count based and not dependent on picking up a wound medal alongside, you can be sure creative writing is in evidence in citations.
Acknowledging this does not detract any from the daredevils, such as the citation of the gallant deceased Air Force corporal that made our President tear up on Rajpath at Republic Day. In standing through the reading of the citation in front of the spouse and bowing deeply to her in respect as he handed over the highest national honour, the Ashoka Chakra, the President conveyed national sentiment. The army knows this sentiment does not and cannot carry over to fakes. While the army men have a choice of models to follow between the Air Force corporal and the army officer in the video in question, the army must ensure – through a regulated internal environment - the wrong model is no option.

Saturday, 3 February 2018


The Dissident Terror Narrative


That Abdul Subhan Qureshi – infamous as ‘India’s bin Laden - has been nabbed at long last is a relief. The arrest wraps up longstanding investigations into terror attacks, ranging from Hyderabad, Surat and Ahmedabad.

Dubbed ‘Techie’, he specialized in bomb making reportedly difficult to defuse. He is also an associate of notorious Indian Mujahideen founder, Nagori, who has been in jail for long now. It was a timely catch in the run up to Republic Day, with some or other nefarious act no doubt nipped in the bud. There only the Bhatkal brothers holding out, who like the D Company are out of the country.

There is little else left to settle on the terror front. This casting of the terror case dating to the last decade into the ash heap of history adds to the earlier letting off of Vanzara and Co. in the Gujarat encounter cases and of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur et al in the Malegaon case. The army man involved in the latter, Lt Col Purohit, has donned olive greens again. The current day juncture, to explicate, is that, like most of India now open defecation free, India is terrorism free.

The narrative has it that over the preceding decade some Indian Muslims precipitated a terror assault on India, supported by Pakistan’s notorious ISI expanding its footprint across India from a quiescent Kashmir. The ostensible trigger was in alienation resulting from the Gujarat pogrom. They also had jihadist connections, stemming from rise of Islamism in wake of 9/11. These links included the Taliban, the Al Qaeda and, over time, the Islamic State.

India’s redoubtable anti-terror agencies and mechanisms put together to cope with the threat have finally delivered. India, under Modi, has not witnessed terror attacks, with many aspirants for the IS being tackled through counseling and parental pressure. The narrative now is that under the able stewardship of intelligence honcho, Doval, as expected, our intelligence and policing organizations merit an appreciative mention at Republic Day.

There is of course a ‘dissident’ narrative, India being a land of vexatious argumentation. It is perhaps muted since saying it out loud in today’s day and age amounts to ‘sedition’. But it needs being aired.

The Narrative would likely figure as a box ticked in Modi’s last lap into elections, with the date either pulled into this year to avoid the incumbency backlash or next year on due course. It needs querying timely, if not busting outright so as to broaden the citizen’s political choice at election time. So, here’s the ‘dissident’ narrative.

The four judges puisne at the Supreme Court have done the nation a favour by putting the cat among the ruling party’s pigeons. Their going to the citizen’s court has forced a focus on the troubling case of the death of CBI judge, Loya. Justice Loya supposedly died of heart attack brought on by his overseeing a significant case involving the ruling party’s president, who allegedly was linked to the killing in an ‘encounter’ of Sohrabuddin and his wife, Kausarbi, and later, their accomplice, Prajapati, by the now scot-free top cop Vanzara and his crack anti-terrorist team. Sohrabuddin was reportedly enroute to take out Gujarat’s chief minister to avenge the Gujarat massacre.

The top judges apprehending a cover up and intervening dramatically to preserve the wheels of justice from political chicanery have put a spoke in the Narrative. Clearly, there is more to the terror India has witnessed.

Vanzara and Co. also figured in the fake encounter that felled teenage Ishrat Jahan and three others. They too were supposedly on the errand as Sohrabuddin. Alongside the targeting of the provincial supremo, Modi, Gujarat was also at the cross hairs of terror attacks such as at Akshardham and multiple terror bombings in Ahmedabad. Surat that was also targeted, but – conveniently - the bombs were discovered by sharp eyed right wing members and defused timely.

Much of the evidence pointing to Muslim provenance of the bombings was from the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh police, both under control of right wing political masters. The evidence regards some bombings, such as in Varanasi, was from give-away emails, with Muslim fingerprints all over them such as from the Al Arabi group (mistakenly named after a Sufi saint – rather than a orthodox personage).

Implausibly, the targeting of Muslims and Muslim places of worship too has been laid at Muslims’ door, for instance, in Hyderabad and Malegaon. This over-enthusiastic implication of Muslims, combined with the whitewashing of ‘saffron terror’, gives rise to the suspicion that there were Muslim impersonators at work and whose footprints need now to be obscured. The pulling out of members of the Abhinav Bharat and Sanatan Sanstha from the list of suspects shows up that the cases of the mid and late 2000s are being put to rest.

The provenance of the terror then is in the veering of politics rightwards about then. Lal Krishna Advani, hoping to ride on the Shining India campaign into 7 Race Course Road, was tripped up by the over-zealous campaign itself. Hindutva needed a new champion. Mr. Modi’s aura had to be built up and the Hindu vote bank manufactured alongside with the Othering of Muslims.

Ostensibly minority perpetrated terror was instrumental in this, with 2008 being the high water mark, intended as setting the stage for the elections in 2009. In the event, the UPA went in for another term, even though their showing in the 26/11 crisis was pilloried.

The right wing discourse over the next five years was that India needed a ‘strongman’, with Mr. Modi’s name willy nilly emerging as the Iron Man II, displacing his mentor and original claimant to the title, Advani. Now that Mr. Modi has made it to Lutyens, there is a need to let off the right wing foot soldiers who paved the way and nab the Muslim terrorist hold outs, such as Qureshi, to pin the blame.

By all means Muslims participating in or inclined towards terror must have their just desserts served up. The nabbing of Abdul Subhan Qureshi is to be applauded. It is one stick less for beating the Muslim community with. But in keeping with the rule of law, terror suspects cannot be rounded up one-sidedly. Their Hindu counter-parts, with whom they kept up a terror jugalbandi of sorts through the 2000s (targeting of each other’s religious sites for instance), need to be arraigned.

In case this is not done, two possibilities arise. One is that the Hindu perpetrators of terror crimes had political provenance, and having proved useful to their political masters, need to be rewarded with freedom. Since Muslims accused in their place and incarcerated for crimes they did not commit are also being let off by the courts, there is an even handedness. The Muslims should not really complain, now that their sons are back in the mohallas.

The second is that there is no link between the two – the political masters and Hindu terror entrepreneurs – in which case, their nevertheless being left off is tacit acknowledgement that right wing forces gained politically in their electoral capture of parliament. This puts the democratic credentials of the electoral exercise in question, in that its marginalization of Muslims was brought about inter-alia by illegitimate means.

Finally, there is a foreign policy underside. The NIA appears to have gone the CBI way as a caged parrot. Rule of law is sine qua non of a robust democracy. Else, India would replicate Pakistan that uses tender gloves in handling Hafeez Saeed. If India is to credibly accused Pakistan as a fount of terror, it had better not live in a glass house of its own. It is no wonder India’s case for a comprehensive convention against international terrorism has not acquired traction yet.

There is an election coming up. In case the rule of law noose tightens round Amit Shah in the Loya case, reopening up the Sohrabuddin case – and other Gujarat cases under his watch and that of PM Modi – there would be a hark back to the tried and tested Terror Narrative. More is needed to be done to flesh out the – dissident - counter narrative, outlined here. All that is being asked is to take justice in terror cases to their logical end. Let the electorate decide. If law enforcement falls short, democracy will be the casualty.

Friday, 2 February 2018



Avinash Paliwal, My Enemy's Enemy: India in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion to the US withdrawal

The title says it all. India’s approach to Afghanistan has little to do with Afghanistan. It has everything to do with Pakistan. This tells us something about India, about how we see ourselves, which is essentially in relation to our Siamese twin, Pakistan. This is not quite how we project ourselves—as a regional power and emerging great power, measuring up against China and a strategic partner of the US. India comes across as just another country attempting to set itself off against its neighbours. Since in our case—and in this case—it is Pakistan, a country perpetually on the brink of failed state status, this is evidence that we are not quite the power we make ourselves out to be. It is no wonder that our Afghan policy—essentially out to sabotage what Pakistan is up to in Afghanistan—is mostly a step behind. Avinash Paliwal’s book tells it like it is: the fragility of thinking in our national security policy making establishment and the dangers that can only accrue.

Friday, 26 January 2018

The Missing Muslim Army Officers

The second highest grosser of 2017, the blockbuster Tiger Zinda Hai, has an actor playing a Muslim army officer working in the Research and Analysis wing(R&AW). He is selected by the team leader played by Salman Khan, for his expertise in sniping. In one of the scenes, another teammate questions the Muslim army officer’s patriotism, who is shown fishing out an Indian flag from his rucksack to prove his nationalist credentials. Presumably, the Muslim director of the film wanted to show that Muslims can be patriots too. The moot question is: Why the doubt?
The Muslim army officer is an endangered species. Official figures are unavailable as to the number of Muslims in officer ranks in the army. Innovative ways, therefore, are to be found to get an approximation. One such attempt has been made by going through the Indian Military Academy’s (IMA) biannual commemorative volumes for each passing out course (Ahmed 2012). The number of Muslims could be tallied from the name and one-line description of each Gentleman Cadet (GC) of the passing out course beneath the squadron-wise course photos.
It being relatively easier to pick out Muslim names, it is possible to be more confident of the numbers, than, say, if educated guesswork is done to compile the numbers for those belonging to the Scheduled Caste from lists of names, as was the methodological problem faced in one such exercise (Aggarwal et al 2015).
While there are multiple officer entry streams apart from the IMA, such as short service commissions from the academies at Chennai and Gaya, these would take the absolute tally up, but are unlikely to change significantly the relative presence of Muslims in officer ranks.
A perusal of six editions of the biannual IMAjournal over the period 2005–11, covering about half of the seven-year period, led to a tally of 50 Muslim officers having passed out of the IMA. This suggests that about 2% were Muslim, excluding those from friendly foreign countries. In the academy journal’s Spring term 2016 edition, on the 137th Regular and 120th Technical Graduates’ course, nine out of 469 or 1.9% of the officers having passed out were Muslims. The figure from the 2016 Autumn term is five GCswith Muslim names out of 403 GCs. The figure goes up thrice over, to 14 GCsfor the following course, Spring 2017, that had 423 GCsin all. In effect, Muslims constituted 2.1% of those taking the Antim Pag, the “final step” of training, also the first step as an officer, to the lilt of “Auld Lang Syne.”
If one contrasts these figures to the figures on GCsfrom Afghanistan—with which India has a strategic partnership agreement since 2011—who have passed out of the IMA, the journals indicate that India has trained some 50 Afghan GCsper term; thereby, training about five times more Afghans than Indian Muslim GCswhile its own Muslim population is five times larger than that of Afghanistan.
The consistency in dismal numbers of Muslims obtaining the President’s Commission suggests that there is little know­ledge, leave alone an understanding, that this is a problem calling out to be remedied. Recall, Muslims, at 172.2 million in India, account for 14.23% of India’s population. It is apparent that Muslims are under-represented. The unfortunate part is that this is unsurprising.
The Sachar committee—the Prime Minister’s High-Level Committee for Preparation of Report on Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India—was set up to seek an answer, among other things, to: “What is the Muslims’ relative share in public and private sector employment?” (Sachar Committee Report 2006).
The answer it reportedly received from the army was that the army had 29,000 Muslim troops (Unnithan 2006), which adds up to 2.63%. These are embarrassingly low figures.
A Continuing Decline
The problem appears to be worsening. The latest National Defence Academy course at Pune commencing in January 2018 and consisting of 371 cadets (including those bound for the air force and navy), has only 4 Muslims. Only two Muslims joined the 153 cadets of the 10+2 Technical Entry Scheme course that commenced in January 2018 in Gaya. In the Direct Entry course that commen­ced at the IMAin January 2018, only one Muslim GCfeatured in the list of 103 names. Only one of the nine who joined the Army Education Corps course commencing in January was Muslim. One Muslim ­figured in the list of the 59 who joined the Technical Graduates course at the IMA. Of the 705 Indian youth signing up for an army officer career at the start of 2018, Indian Muslims could not even make it to ­double digits.1
Further, Muslims’ lack of visibility at the academy is manifest in all dimensions. Not only do too few Muslims make it to the academy’s portals, but, while there, their performance is indifferent. The IMAjournals perused for data reveal only one Muslim as having figured in the top GCappointments (34 appointments per course) at the battalion and company levels.2
In the two recent courses examined (Autumn 2016 and Spring 2017), only two Muslims held a “tabbed” appointment as the lower-rung Junior Under Officers, responsible for a platoon (the subordinate grouping to a company). The appointments are indicative of the relative order of merit of the GCthat is fixed on passing out. Of the surfeit of academy awards, only one Muslim GCreceived a mention for meritorious performance in equestrian sports.
The effects of under-representation and underperformance persist into their careers. Since only professionally sound officers land instructional appoint­ments at the IMA, it is possible to see how Muslims are faring by examining whether they find representation in the IMA’sfaculty. Lt Gen (Retired) Ata Hasnain, the notable defence commentator, was once an instructor at the IMAas a major. The instructional staff names appear in lists below the group photos of the training faculty and academic staff in the IMAjournals. There were no Muslim officer instructors in two of the terms examined, one each in 2008 and 2011. In the latest two editions of the journal, there was a single Muslim major visible in the Autumn 2016 edition and two in the Spring 2017 edition.
Not tenanting such prestigious appoint­ments early on in careers, results in fewer making it to higher ranks since the steep pyramidal structure of the army weans off underperformers early. It is apparent that there is a cascading effect of the deficit in Muslim youth making it into the academy. It is no wonder that the only Muslim officer who reached the army commander level in this century
is recently retired Lt Gen P M Hariz, one of the two generals controversially passed over for promotion to army chief in late 2016.
The situation is equally appalling when the non-officer instructor lists are examined in the journals. In eight of the journals (six of the earlier set from 2005–11 and two of the latest (2016–17), of the non-officer instructor staff in the consequential training section comprising 100 ustads (non-officer instructors), none were Muslim. The only field having consistent Muslim presence is equestrian, owing to the instructors largely coming from the only horsed cavalry regiment that traditionally has had Muslims in its ranks, 61 Cavalry.
Not a ‘Minority Problem’
Is whistle-blowing on this score warranted? The army values its apolitical and secular image. It believes that it can only work on the youth the communities themselves forward, and that it is an ­all-volunteer army of a free country into which any eligible citizen can step up for recruitment. Given that it does not acknowledge that a problem exists, it is unlikely to take any steps to mitigate it.
However, under-representation is not only a “minority problem,” as Muslim issues are usually clubbed together. Any claim that the army is an equal-opportunity employer is questionable. The biannual media write-up on the passing out parades at the IMAinvariably provide a state-wise break-up of the officer commissions. At the last passing out parade in December 2017, of the 409 GCspassing out, 76 GCs were from Uttar Pradesh (UP), 58 from Haryana and 29 from Uttarakhand (ToI2017a). The June 2017 passing out parade had 423 GCspassing out, with 74 from UP, 49 from Haryana, 40 from Uttarakhand, 30 from Rajasthan, 28 from Bihar and 23 from Delhi (Pioneer 2017). Thus, a substantial proportion of the officer corps appears to be coming from a ­narrow, if populous, segment of India’s sub-nationalities inhabiting North India.
At the last passing out parade—one reviewed by the Bangladesh army chief—there were only six Bengalis. This implies that a majority of Indian communities, taken socially (as in case of Muslims) and geographically (East and South Indian communities), are under-represented. A research scholar writes, “Just as Muslims are under-represented in the army, so are the Bengalis, Biharis, Oriyas, South Indians or Gujaratis. And just as Sikhs are over-represented, so are the Jats, Dogras, Garhwalis, Kumaonis, Gurkhas, Marathas and others” (Saksena 2014). Arguably, the army does not reflect India’s diversity sufficiently.
The soldiery is not the focus here. As military sociologist Samuel Huntington (1957: 8) reminds us, the significance of officership to military professionalism is critical. Being apolitical and remaining so is a critical aspect of military professionalism. An officer corps that is non-representative socially or ethnically opens itself to the possibility of losing its apolitical and secular character.
It is liable to unwarily reflect the political inclinations of its catchment areas. Over this decade, right-wing ideological trope and memes have been liberally exchanged on the army’s social media networks (Ahmed 2017). The army chief recently has had to remark that keeping politics out of the army was necessary (ToI2017b). Since he did not clarify his remarks, there are two possibilities. Either he is apprehensive of the right wing’s penetration into the military, or he is against the emerging pushback within the army against such penetration. The latter reflects the discourse within the middle class, a step back from their falling uncritically for the so-called Modi wave initially.
Perception of Muslims
Reverting to the scene in Tiger Zinda Hai, it can be inferred that the MuslimR&AWofficer’s teammate perhaps did not have sufficient professional and social interactions with Muslims owing to there being very few Muslims in theR&AWand Muslims over the past two decades having been increasingly pushed into urban ghettos, respectively. TheR&AWbeing in the intelligence agency keeping a keen eye on the shenanigans of Pakistan, he has perhaps acquired a prejudiced mindset in this organisation. A similar effect can be apprehended within the army too. There are too few Muslim fellow officers whose professional showing can help dispel the negative stereotypes that have come to be associated with Muslims in general. The army also has a cloistered social space, restricting social interaction outside its cantonments. Virtually every officer has rotated out of operations in Muslim-dominated Kashmir, where, in one popular perspective in the army, he is up against a jihad (Hasnain 2016: 157). Army Chief Bipin Rawat, interacting with the press on the eve of Army Day, hazarded that Kashmir’s education system is suspect and that its madrasas (religious seminaries) and masjids (mosques) bear watching (Business Standard 2018).
More Muslims in the officer corps could be preventive, leading to greater self-regulation in social media exchanges that forge the negative perception of Muslims and Islam. An increase in their numbers on the ground in operations could mitigate any adverse fallout, such as, for instance, egregious violence inspired by misinterpreting problems with Pakistan and in Kashmir as a religious or civilisational war.
Since the army can be expected to be less than forthcoming on change—especially since ethnicities that are well represented apprehend a loss of employment opportunity, power, and the welfare slice of the defence budget—for now, only a sensitisation to the problem at hand can be done. Change can await democratic ousting of the current day government, not known to be predisposed to the minority in any way. Take, for instance, the discontinuing of the publishing of the numbers of Muslims in the police force early in its tenure. The decline by one percentage point of Muslims in half a decade—from 7.55% in 2007 to 6.55% in 2012—was put out by the National Crime Records Bureau (Sheikh 2015). This was during the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) rule, which the then opposition and current day ruling dispensation had held to be guilty of the appeasement of Muslims.
Change should not be read as affirmative action, but focused on recruiting processes targeting India’s missing mino­rities, ethnic and social. An Equal Opportunities Commission and a National Data Bank, both recommended by the Sachar Committee, are needed. For now, the army’s outreach programs could be redirected towards absent communities. For their part, Muslim communities across the country need to identify service in the military as an area for diversifying their presence and contribution to national life. Quite like how Muslim communities are endeavouring to get their wards into the civil services by setting up coaching centres, such centres also need to be set up for cracking the army officer entry exams. A long-term effort should be to encourage Muslim boys to attend Sainik schools run by states. Alongside, Muslim girls must be encouraged to opt for the Officers Training Academy, Chennai.
Pluralism and a rejection of intolerance are the sine qua non for Indian demo­cracy. These stand gravely threatened. The pernicious challenge to democracy that majoritarian extremism represents has not left any institution unscathed, including the army. Internal diversity, both social and geographical, can help insulate security organisations from the ongoing attempt by cultural nationalists to collapse “Hindu” and “Hindustan” into one.
1 “Merit Lists, Joining Letter Status,” Join Indian Army, Government of India, http://joinindianarmy.nic.in/alpha/~/merit-lists.htm.
2 A company is equivalent to a “house” in schools. Three GC companies make one battalion.
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No 6, pp 45–51.
Ahmed, Ali (2012): “The Army: Missing Muslim India,” Mainstream, Vol 50, No 27, http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article3529.html.
— (2017): “Dark Side of Army’s Social Media Groups,” Tribune, 2 March, http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/dark-side-of-army-s-social-media-groups/371308.html.
Business Standard (2018): “Army Chief Bipin Rawat Calls for ‘Some’ Control over Mosques, Madrasas,” 13 January, http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/army-chief-bipin-rawat-calls-for-some-control-over-mosques-madrasas-
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Pioneer (2017): “After UP, Haryana, U’khand Tops List with Contribution of 40 GCs in Indian Army,” 10 June, http://www.dailypioneer.com/state-editions/dehradun/after-up-haryana-ukh....
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Sheikh, Zeeshan (2015): “Data on Muslims in Police Will No Longer Be Public,” Indian Express, 30 November, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/data-on-muslims-in-police-will-no-longer-be-public/.
ToI (2017a): “IMA POP Today, Maximum New Officers from UP, Haryana & U’khand,” Times of India, 8 December, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/ima-pop-today-maximum-new-officers-from-up-haryana-ukhand/articleshow/61986724.cms.
— (2017b): “Military Should Be Kept Out of Politics: Army Chief,” Times of India, 6 December, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/military-should-be-kept-out-of-politics-army-chief/articleshow/61946177.cms.
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