On psywar and sedition

And demonstrating resolve

Twenty prominent personalities have written an op-ed arguing that India cannot afford to fall victim to a psywar (linkthanks Yazad Jal).

Some stray voices in the media have been questioning, with surprising nonchalance and lack of depth, the wisdom and expediency of retaining Kashmir as a part of India. This matters not because such voices reflect any growing view in our country but because they play into the hands of enemies of the nation. Their suggestions embolden subversive forces both within and outside the country, and encourage our adversaries to entertain the hope that with a little more effort, Kashmir will secede from India.

National will is a critical component of state power. In the absence of military might, psychological warfare is the weapon of choice of a devious adversary to attempt to break national will, and to also confuse and demoralise the Indian state. No nation aspiring to become a major player in global power dynamics can afford to fall victim to such psywar.

India cannot and must not give any signal that could be misinterpreted to mean that its national resolve to preserve its unity and integrity is crumbling. [ExpressBuzz]

They end their piece calling for the Indian government, political parties and people to unequivocally signal a commitment to India’s territorial integrity.

They are right to point out the effect that a perceived weakening of Indian resolve will have in the minds of Kashmiri separatists and Pakistani strategists. As Praveen Swami’s excellent India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad describes all too clearly, India ends up suffering for the errors of judgement made by deluded Pakistani strategists who are keen to jump at the smallest sign of weakness on India’s part.

While they rightly criticise the media for giving way too much prominence to the “let Kashmir go” perspective, they could well have made these points without criticising the freedom of expression or describing views to the contrary as “seditious”. Actually winning the public debate by prevailing over pro-secessionists (and not by merely shutting them out) can send an even stronger signal to secessionists and deluded Pakistani strategists.

My op-ed in Mint: A new compact with Jammu & Kashmir

More than self-determination for the disaffected, India as a whole needs a dispensation where individual rights and freedoms are truly respected

A version of the following was published in Mint today.

Public consciousness in India received a rude shock a few weeks ago when public demonstrations erupted first in the Kashmir valley, and then in Jammu. For a public fed with accounts of a peace process with Pakistan, talks with Kashmiri separatists and a decrease in terrorism in the state, this return to a “1989-like atmosphere” was sudden enough to be incomprehensible. Coupled with a very sophisticated psychological operation (psy-ops) from Kashmiri separatists—and one that was met with a paralytic silence from the UPA government—this resulted some commentators despondently suggesting that it is time to “let go” of Kashmir.

But surely, it was always unrealistic to expect that just over five years of the Mufti-Azad government would reverse the impact of two decades of a violent proxy war that sharpened the differences between Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri on the one hand, and Muslim and non-Muslim on the other. Since 2002, the geopolitical environment compelled Pakistan and the separatists to lie low, for their old formulations found no purchase in the wake of 9/11. The moment this began to change, politics in Kashmir took a turn for the worse. Kashmir’s mainstream politicians, being bandwagoners, could always be counted on to join the side they thought was winning.

But how did they arrive at this conclusion? Well, because of a highly successful psy-ops that transformed concerns over a temporary transfer of uninhabitable land in remote snow-covered mountains into a narrative of a demographic invasion by ‘Hindu’ Indians. In a single masterstroke, this achieved something that two decades of militancy had failed to: generating ill-will for the Kashmiris among the Indian people. Kashmiris came out not so much to protest against the land transfer, but against a diabolic Hindu plan to reduce them to a minority in their own state. Non-Kashmiris saw this as a sign of Kashmiri religious intolerance. This led to, on the one hand, protests by the Hindu community in Jammu, and on the other, to suggestions that allowing Kashmir to secede would not be a bad idea at all. The UPA government in New Delhi was a feeble, non-entity in the entire affair. For instance, it took over 10 days to announce that Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz was not killed, as had been projected earlier, by Indian security forces at protest march. By the time M K Narayanan announced this, more damage had been done.

But let there be no mistake: there is a great affective divide between the Kashmiri people and the rest of India. The solution, however, is not secession. Continue reading My op-ed in Mint: A new compact with Jammu & Kashmir

Your intolerance is scandalous

India’s First Amendment

A lurker on Atanu Dey’s blog pointed to two fantastic reports from TIME magazine’s archives.

May 28, 1951…Part of the Indian press, said (Nehru), is dirty, indulges in “vulgarity, indecency and falsehood.” To teach it manners, Nehru proposed an amendment to India’s constitution that would impose severe restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. He asked for power to curb the press and to punish persons and newspapers for “contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offense.” Nehru told Parliament: “It has become a matter of the deepest distress to me to see the way in which the less responsible news sheets are being conducted . . . not injuring me or this House much, but poisoning the minds of the younger generation.”

Nehru said his measure was aimed at Communist and Hindu extremist agitation. His real targets: Atom, Current, Struggle and Blitz, four Bombay-published sensational weeklies which have consistently attacked Nehru’s domestic and foreign policy, scurrilously attacked the U.S. [TIME]

In the event, parliament passed the first amendment that placed curbs on fundamental rights, including on the rights to speech and property.

June 11, 1951…A small but determined parliamentary opposition, led by Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, former Minister for Industry, bitterly attacked the amendment.

Mookerjee (to Nehru): You’ve got 240 supporters in this House, but outside in the country millions are against you.

Nehru (shaking his fists) : [Your] statements are scandalous . . .

Mookerjee: Your intolerance is scandalous . . .

Nehru (shouting): Any person who says that this amendment of mine curbs the liberty of the press utters lies . . .

As Nehru explained it: “We should not only give the press freedom, but make it understand that freedom.” There was a lot of doubt whether Nehru himself understood the meaning of freedom. His excuse for requesting the law: the scurrilous outpouring of Indian scandal sheets. But as the All-India Newspaper Editors Conference pointed out: there was nothing to prevent the government from using its new powers against the legitimate press when & if it chose. [TIME]

Nehru’s followers have been consistent in following in his footsteps. Dr Mookerjee’s modern-day followers would do well to heed the position of their political-intellectual forefather.