The misleading presumption of a coup

We lose the middle when we debate the extremes

Here’s an excerpt from a report in The Hindu filed by its New Delhi bureau.

Precisely why the government ought to have been alarmed by the presence of two additional formations on New Delhi’s outskirts, when tens of thousands of soldiers are stationed in and around the city, also remains unclear.

Intelligence sources told The Hindu that the political apprehensions might have emanated from assessments given to the government as its conflict with the Army Chief on the age issue escalated in early January. Tens of thousands of soldiers were arriving in Delhi for the Republic Day parade, even as Gen. Singh was preparing to move the Supreme Court, and the Intelligence Bureau feared the inflamed public discourse on his date of birth might spark an embarrassing incident.

The movement of the two units was noted with concern in this context, a senior Intelligence Bureau official admitted to The Hindu, but insisted that “at no stage was the possibility of a coup, or any attempt to overawe the government, ever discussed. We worried about indiscipline, or a show of support by some elements — and it’s our job to consider those possibilities.”

Though the Intelligence Bureau routinely monitors troop movements in sensitive areas across India, the sources said, it had not been conducting surveillance operations seeking signs of threatening military movements. It was only after the 50 Brigade or 33 Armoured Division’s detachments were noticed on the capital’s outskirts that the government was notified of their presence. [The Hindu]

In yesterday’s blog post and tweets, I had warned that the presumption that the Indian Express report only indicated a coup would close our minds to other “in-between” possibilities.

Note what the senior IB official says—it was not a coup they feared, but rather ‘indiscipline or a show of support by some elements.’ Street protests have become increasing common over the last few years not least because the UPA government has succumbed to political negotiations conducted by such means. As the officer said, it’s the Intelligence Bureau’s job to consider those possibilities. The atmosphere of mistrust would have played on those risk assessments and set off the chain of events.

What is of public interest, then, is what caused civil-military trust to break down? What mistakes did the civilian establishment make in the days and hours leading up to January 16/17? What mistakes did the army make? These questions need to be examined dispassionately in order for us to be able to attempt to restore that trust. [Troop movements of the curious kind]

Tamil Nadu alert

Tamil chauvinism must be prevented from taking an anti-India form

It is repugnant, but legitimate, for political groups in India to support the LTTE. It is repugnant, but legitimate for them to engage in lawful political activism to promote their cause. But it is wholly illegitimate and totally unacceptable for them to attack an Indian army convoy for any reason. So the ‘activists’ from of Periyar Dravida Kazhagam (PDK) and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) who attacked an Indian army convoy near Coimbatore must be dealt with utmost seriousness.

The attack itself is unusual and was quite likely to have been conducted after agents provocateurs spread rumours about the convoy carrying an arms shipment for the Sri Lankan army. Like the riot that occurred at the Madras High Court campus a few months ago, this attack suggests that an unholy nexus between Tamil chauvinist politicians and the LTTE’s supporters has not only been allowed to exist, but been given the license to carry out acts of violence against symbols of the Indian state. M Karunanidhi’s DMK government—which never made a secret of its sympathies—and the pusillanimous UPA government in New Delhi cannot escape responsibility for preventing the nexus from developing in an anti-India direction.

The Coimbatore incidents must not be repeated. The prosecution of those arrested for attacking the army trucks must carry on without ‘politicising’ it. This is possible if both the DMK and Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK agree that some lines ought not to be crossed. The chances of this happening appear slim—but without leadership and deft political management the Sri Lankan issue could destabilise Tamil Nadu for the next few years.

My op-ed in Mint: Who wants to be good Taliban?

US counter-insurgency in Afghanistan, Pakistan army’s choices and implications for India

In today’s Mint. Sushant & I argue that General Kayani’s political decisions will depend on the course and outcomes of US negotiations with ‘moderate’ Taliban. We suggest that while moderate Taliban is an oxymoron it is also “a label of convenience, using moral connotations to render realpolitik-driven compromises acceptable” and will be applied to whoever the US negotiates with. Excerpts:

So who might end up as the ‘good’ Taliban in the coming months? Mid-level commanders of the militias fighting Western forces are one likely set of contenders—a combination of political accommodation, financial rewards and astute exploitation of inter-tribal rivalries might help distance them from their top leaders. Another set of contenders are the warlords (now called Taliban commanders) who might not share deep loyalties to the al-Qaeda leadership and the Pakistani establishment. How all this will fare is difficult to say, though the cards are heavily stacked against its success. Nevertheless, its course and outcome will determine General Kayani’s political moves in Pakistan.

If the United States decides to engage the type of individuals and groups that are backed by the Pakistani military-jihadi complex, General Kayani is likely to want to quickly arrest Pakistan’s political unravelling. The army can then expand its own bargains with the Pakistan Taliban, and relieved of pressure, go back to being its usual self: wielding power, cornering economic opportunities and fighting India.

If, on the other hand, the designation of ‘good’ Taliban does not square with the interests of the military-jihadi complex, then General Kayani has every reason to wait and allow matters to worsen. For the ‘bad’ Taliban will continue to hurt US forces in Afghanistan until Washington folds or quits. Pakistan’s military leadership very likely believes that the United States cannot simultaneously accept the failure of a nuclear-armed Pakistan and the triumph of the insurgency in Afghanistan.

What does this mean for India? There is an urgent need for India to protect itself from the fallout of Pakistan’s Talibanisation. This involves, first, ensuring that the Omar Abdullah government succeeds in ending the insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir. The new central government will have to imaginatively wind down the visible security presence in Kashmiri towns and villages even as it strengthens vigilance along the LoC and within the state. Second, the internal security lessons of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai must be learnt. And finally, India simply cannot continue the unserious approach to political violence: there must be zero tolerance of vandals, rioters, “sainiks” of one form or another and terrorists.

On the external front, the only way to save Pakistan is to put it under international management. The United States, to paraphrase old Winston, can be trusted to do the right thing after it has exhausted all other options. It is in India’s interests to see that it exhausts them fast enough. [Mint]

Read the rest at LiveMint. (Thanks to Swami Iyer for asking the right question)

Rioting lawyers are rioters

Watch out for the LTTE’s mischief in Tamil Nadu

The LTTE leadership probably calculates that destabilising Tamil Nadu by inciting widespread political violence will serve its interests. If you think that lawyers in the Madras High Court turned into violent mobs, torched police stations and got into street battles with riot police just like that, think again. Political violence doesn’t work that way. It is a deliberate attempt to spark off widespread violence across the state, disrupt internal order, divert the resources of the law enforcement machinery and create tactical space (in both the political and security sense) for the LTTE. In this, the media has played the usual role of sensationalising the entire issue and brazenly projecting a “neutral” morally equivalent perspective between those who broke the law and those who enforced the law.

As for police brutality—the Chennai police did not act with any greater harshness than is the norm. Those norms are not pretty. Those norms must change. But our shock and disapproval of the norms of riot control in India should not get in the way of repudiating the moral equivalence. The media coverage benefits the law breakers, and the law breakers know this.

Both the UPA government in New Delhi and the DMK government in Chennai must do whatever is necessary to control, deter and punish political violence. As the principal opposition party, the BJP must unambiguously signal its support for actions towards this end, and hold the governments to account. For their part, the LTTE’s supporters and their opponents should be welcome to pursue their agenda without resorting to violence. The next few weeks will test Tamil Nadu’s political and social stability: Indians should realise that there is a foreign hand behind the ugly scenes they see on TV.

They are Ravana’s armies

…and must be defeated

The outcry over a bunch of thugs going about their thuggery donning the mantle of ‘Hindu’ armies of Rama might well distract attention from other, more pressing, security issues. But it is well-deserved. The UPA government’s dismal record on stamping down terrorism and bringing terrorists to justice has created a cynicism that is, in turn, breeding a mindset that it is somehow acceptable for citizens to gang up and use terrorism to combat terrorism. So it is extremely important—even if it is our hyperventilating and frequently irresponsible media that does it—to highlight these events and raise the threshold for their acceptance.

Because the vandals who broke into the Mangalore pubs did so, and publicly justified doing so for ideological reasons, it is important to take them head on. No, Ram’s armies didn’t molest women. On the contrary they went to war against the army of a king who committed a crime against a woman. And by no stretch of imagination can a prohibition against alcohol be justified on account of Hindu religion—the earliest traditions of which celebrated mystic intoxication through the routine consumption of Soma. Social conservatives in Karnataka might have reasons to prohibit the consumption of alcohol, but if they wish to impose it on their fellow citizens, they have to take the political-constitutional route. Barging into pubs and molesting women is clearly an adoption of the credo and tactics of Islamist extremists such as Srinagar’s notorious Asiya Andrabi. As they sink deeper into their paranoia and intolerance, Hindu extremists—whether Mr Muthalik or mindless idiots like Lt Col Shrikant Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur—are becoming more like the Islamic fundamentalists they so hate. In doing so, paradoxically, they are departing from the fundamentals of Hinduism.

Repudiating their repugnant line of thinking is not only the right thing to do, but, as the BJP discovered after its unfortunate conduct over the Col Purohit-Sadhvi Pragya case, also politically astute. So it was good to see Rajnath Singh, the BJP’s president condemn it as “an unacceptable act of hooliganism”. Karnataka’s chief minister, B S Yeddyurappa says that his government will stringent action against the thugs and has also promised that a repeat of such incidents will not be allowed. He will be judged by his actions, but his feet have to be kept to the fire. On the other hand, he would do well not to pursue the stale old Bangalorean grouse against “pub culture”. The energies of the police force are better employed against thieves, thugs and terrorists, and not for enforcing virtue and preventing vice.

Nationalist terrorism is terrorism

And is as abhorrent is any other kind of terrorism

Even as we await more details of the plot behind the terrorist attacks in Malegaon, and even as media and political reactions to the affair take on even more grotesque forms, some commentators have argued that there can be no moral equivalence between a form of terrorism that seeks to destroy the Indian state and a form that does not seek it.

This argument is fallacious. Political violence of any form is morally repugnant and indefensible. Terrorism—a form that involves the indiscriminate targeting of civilians—is perhaps the most repugnant. It is repugnant if carried out by nationalists, separatists, secessionists, Leftists, jihadis or Hindu extremists. The first step in a national strategy to defeat terrorism is the realisation that political violence, leave alone terrorism, must not be tolerated by civil society.

So “Hindu terrorists” are being suspected of having carried out the bombings in Malegaon. Even as segments of the political spectrum delight in emphasising the adjective “Hindu” in that phrase, it is the noun “terrorist” that must be the focus of our attention. And our condemnation.

The communal overtones of the debate over the Malegaon terrorist attacks only underline the fact that that UPA government’s failure to maintain internal security, its yielding to competitive intolerance and its viewing of counter-terrorism through a communal prism risks sparking off political violence on a wider scale. The descent to matsya-nyaya is palpable: and unless arrested immediately, will have grave consequences in the near future. For the normative illegitimacy of political violence requires the state to enforce and be seen as enforcing the rule of law.

The only solution is a complete, resolute and unambiguous intolerance of political violence and terrorism—regardless of scale or perpetrator—by the government. And yes, by Indian society.

Ill-conceived dialogue

…played into the Hurriyat’s hands

Praveen Swami’s indictment is damning: “New Delhi’s well-meaning but ill-conceived dialogue process communalised Jammu and Kashmir and laid the ground for the ongoing crisis”

Experts have been telling New Delhi that the solution to this Islamist upsurge lies in negotiations which will give power—if not independence—to secessionists. Both the premise of this received-wisdom and the prescriptions it lends itself to are false. In fact, the crisis now unfolding in Jammu and Kashmir can also be read as the consequence of New Delhi’s peace process. In its effort to make peace with the Islamist-led secessionist movement in Kashmir, this counter-intuitive argument suggests, India ended up fuelling competitive communalism in each of the State’s three regions.

New Delhi deferred the (round table conference) dialogue process until after the Assembly elections scheduled for October. Islamists in Kashmir, though, feared that the elections would lead to their annihilation, and began sharpening their knives. To anyone other than Prime Minister Singh’s house-intellectuals, whose eyes seemed to have been paper-clipped shut, the brewing crisis was evident. [The Hindu emphasis added]

The dialogue process in Jammu & Kashmir was in piece with the UPA government’s policy DNA: entitlements based on communal socialism, accepting competitive intolerance and yielding to the resulting political violence.

The grammar of anarchy challenges the idea of India

The right to protest does not imply that the protests are right

K Subrahmanyam’s piece warning against giving in to separatist demands makes a very important point—the tendency to tolerate and appease those who take to the streets to press their demands.

But the challenge facing India is whether we try to set right our governance and improve it or yield to the protesters. Disruption is being made part of India’s political culture by most of our political parties.

Not only Kashmir, but violent agitations elsewhere pose a challenge to the idea of India. The country has to seek a comprehensive strategy to deal with this challenge. Yielding to the Kashmiri secessionists is not a solution. It would be the end of the concept of India. [TOI]

Once the ‘grammar of anarchy’ is accepted as legitimate, accommodating the demands of those who use it—whether it is the Gujjars of Rajasthan, the Amarnath Samiti of Jammu or the Communists in various parts of the country—becomes merely a matter of rationalisation. Any number of principles can be trotted out for the purpose. Shouldn’t those who support yielding to separatist demands in Kashmir also support reservations as demanded by the Gujjars and oppose reservations as demanded by Youth For Equality? Does drawing the bigger, louder, angrier, more violent crowd help reconcile such opposing demands?

This is more than just about Jammu & Kashmir. It’s about the model that Indians accept as the way to reconcile the diverse interests of a diverse population. Mobs, general strikes and public demonstrations might be legitimate means for citizens to express their opinions. But this does not mean that society—and certainly not the government—should accept demands made in this manner. Here the media deserves a share of the blame: the profusion of media outlets has encouraged the tendency of “camera-friendly” agitations—remember Rage Boy—which in turn are blown out of proportion by breathless on-scene reporters and shouting anchors.

Related Link: The inaugural editorial of Pragati; and Harsh Khare calls for “a fundamentalist belief in the curative power of Indian democracy” (linkthanks Anand Sampath).

Three thoughts on Independence Day

On socialism, constitutionalism and curbing intolerance

For contemplation on Independence Day—on the need to expunge socialism from the Constitution in letter and spirit; on the norms of public activism; and how competitive intolerance might be reined in.

Related Links: Three thoughts on Independence Day 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004 & on Republic Day 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005