Mass incidents

Riots with Chinese characteristics

It looks like a term used in quantum physics. But it’s a term used in China. Rather, by China. Mass incidents cover anything from public protests and demonstrations to violent riots. Their number might be increasing, but details remain sketchy.

So even as China’s actions in geoeconomics are being closely watched—not least due to a gigantic stimulus package that over 15% of its annual GDP—one little mass incident should be noted. An angry mob torched a police station over a traffic-related accident…in Shenzen.

Yes, you should be properly concerned.

Law of the Fishes watch

The protecting railway passengers edition

When the state is perceived to be failing in its duty to impose order through its monopoly over the legitimate use of force, it provides excuses for vested interests to take on that role.

Alleging a ‘breakdown’ in the law and order machinery in Maharashtra, Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh said unarmed workers of his party will travel in trains in that state to prevent north Indians from being attacked. [IE]

Expensive mistakes on national security (2)

A flip after the flop

And just one day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that his government has “no fixed, inflexible or ideological view” with regard to anti-terrorism laws, and that it was actively considering strengthening the legal framework in line with “global consensus”, his government has announced that it won’t be doing so after all.

“No, No, No. It is a draconian (law) and against human rights. If the present anti-terror laws are implemented properly, there is no requirement for additional laws,” Information and Broadcasting Minister P R Dasmunsi said.

“What do you mean by tougher anti-terror laws? Some of our laws are much more strong than those in the US and UK,” he shot back when asked whether the government was planning to bring in an anti-terror law similar to POTA. [TOI, emphasis added]

So this what what Dr Singh meant by not having a fixed and inflexible view. Depending on time of the day, day of the week and member of his cabinet, you get very different views. (Psst. Note that it is Mr Dasmunshi and not the home minister who is announcing these cabinet decisions, in the company of the home secretary.)

Expensive mistakes on national security

Yes, it was the UPA’s political persuasions that got in the way of fighting terrorists

On June 8th, 2004, the UPA government presented its programme in parliament, in the president’s speech:

My government is concerned about the misuse of POTA in the recent past. While there can be no compromise on the fight against terrorism, the Government is of the view that existing laws could adequately handle the menace of terrorism. The Government, therefore, proposes to repeal POTA. [IBEF, emphasis added]

In his address to the Governor’s Conference, on September 17th, 2008, four years and umpteen acts of terrorism later, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared:

The public debate on the issue of terrorism has, unfortunately, tended to get driven by politics, and has centered on certain laws enacted or repealed by Governments of different political persuasions. Our Government has no fixed, inflexible or ideological view in this regardWe are actively considering legislation to further strengthen the substantive anti-terrorism law in line with the global consensus on the fight against terrorism. [PMO, emphasis added]

Dr Singh’s sanctimoniousness, as usual, is gratuitous. If the issue with POTA was “basically (related) to the procedural aspects of investigation and prosecution of terrorism related offences”, and the need was to “address the apprehensions”, then surely repealing the entire act (instead of amending it) is not merely about the UPA government being wrong its view about the efficacy of “existing laws”. It is about a deliberate decision to subordinate internal security to political persuasions.

As for attributing the need to change to a global consensus, Dr Singh is on an even weaker wicket. That global consensus—to the extent that the term is even meaningful—was much stronger in 2004 than it is now. Even so, that Dr Singh should say—even for the purposes of saving face—that the ‘global consensus’ should determine India’s internal security policies reveals just how lost he and his government are on this subject. (Mercifully, he did not think that the global consensus on nuclear non-proliferation ought to determine India’s nuclear weapons policy)

Peering into the criminal mind

A revolution in investigative affairs?

The use of brain mapping in investigation, and most recently the acceptance of brain mapping reports as evidence by Indian courts has raised many eyebrows. Today’s New York Times has a report by Anand Giridharadas on this:

The Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature test, or BEOS, was developed by Champadi Raman Mukundan, a neuroscientist who formerly ran the clinical psychology department of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences in Bangalore. His system builds on methods developed at American universities by other scientists, including Emanuel Donchin, Lawrence A. Farwell and J. Peter Rosenfeld.

Despite the technology’s promise—some believe it could transform investigations as much as DNA evidence has—many experts in psychology and neuroscience were troubled that it was used to win a criminal conviction before being validated by any independent study and reported in a respected scientific journal. Publication of data from testing of the scans would allow other scientists to judge its merits—and the validity of the studies—during peer reviews.

“Technologies which are neither seriously peer-reviewed nor independently replicated are not, in my opinion, credible,” said Dr. Rosenfeld, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Northwestern University and one of the early developers of electroencephalogram-based lie detection. “The fact that an advanced and sophisticated democratic society such as India would actually convict persons based on an unproven technology is even more incredible.” [NYT]

The use of this technology for investigation should be of relatively lesser concern, especially when the alternatives are of the unpleasant sort. But Dr Rosenfeld does have a point, especially when it comes to admissibility of these reports for securing convictions.

It is difficult to understand why Mr Giridharadas’s report does not quote any Indian scientist on the subject. It leaves out an important point: on September 6th, The Hindu reported that “an expert committee studying the efficacy of brain mapping criminal suspects has concluded that it is unscientific and should be discontinued as an investigative tool and as evidence in courts.” Rakesh Maria, Mumbai police crime branch chief, has been quoted as saying ‘that while BEOS was a useful technique of examination, it couldn’t achieve conviction all by itself. “The technique needs to be corroborated with other evidence.”‘

Reading the Arthashastra: Dealing with disaffection

Its causes and its remedies

Which of the three, Kautilya asks, is the worst—an impoverished people, a greedy people or a disaffected people?

He answers:

An impoverished people are ever apprehensive of oppression and destruction (by over-taxation, etc.), and are therefore desirous of getting rid of their impoverishment, or of waging war or of migrating elsewhere.

A greedy people are ever discontented and they yield themselves to the intrigues of an enemy.

A disaffected people rise against their master along with his enemy. [Arthashastra VII:5]

Kautilya enumerates eight categories of reasons for disaffection. They can be summarised to be in the nature of “doing what ought not to be done and not doing what ought to be done”. In today’s terminology, these would be called failure to provide good governance. In addition to righteousness and rule of law, “by carelessness and negligence…in maintaining the security of person and property of his subjects, the king causes impoverishment, greed, and disaffection to appear among his subjects.”

In Kautilya’s causal chain, “when a people are impoverished, they become greedy; when they are greedy, they become disaffected; when disaffected, they voluntarily go to the side of the enemy or destroy their own master.” This leads to a unambiguous injunction:

Hence, no king should give room to such causes as would bring about impoverishment, greed or disaffection among his people. If, however, they appear, he should at once take remedial measures against them. [Arthashastra VII:5]

How? As discussed in a previous post on internal security, Kautilya distinguishes between internal and external dimensions. For internal threats he recommends a two-pronged strategy. Distinguishing between disaffected people and their leaders, he advises reconciliation for the former and elimination of the latter.

Related Links: The reading the Arthashastra series archive.

Reading the Arthashastra: On internal security

Conciliation, dissension and coercion

What prescriptions does Kautilya offer for internal security? He starts the chapter on “internal and external dangers” by noting that these dangers arise due to wrongly concluded “treaties and other settlements”.

He places threats into four categories. The most serious one arises from internal originators and internal abettors and is like the “fear from a lurking snake”. Second to this is the purely external threat, both originated and abetted by foreigners. Third comes the internally originated but externally abetted threat, followed by the externally originated, internally abetted threat.

So how should the king deal with these? For the purely internal threat—when originators and abettors are locals—he advises a policy of conciliation and coercion.

He may employ the policy of conciliation with regard to those who keep the appearance of contentment, or who are naturally discontented or otherwise. Gifts may be given under the pretext of having been satisfied with a favoured man’s steadfastness… or under the plea of anxious care about his weal or woe. [Arthashastra IX:5]

In addition, he advocates the use of spies split the ranks of the conspirators and their sympathisers. Kautilya is ruthless when it comes to coercive tactics against leaders of the conspiracy–the punishment is usually death, including what might today be termed “extra judicial killings”.
Continue reading “Reading the Arthashastra: On internal security”

Bangalore attacked

Serial bomb blasts come to town

Rediff’s Vicky Nanjappa reports seven bomb blasts in and around Bangalore, killing three and injuring at least 20 people. (via email from Gautam John)

The Indian Express quotes the city police chief:

“Explosives were hidden in places which are refugee prone and on roadside. All six blasts were of low intensity,” said Bangalore Police Commissioner Shankar Bidri.

“The Bangalore police is fully capable of dealing with the situation. We request the people to carry on with their routine life. The affected areas have been sealed and completely cordoned off,” he said. [IE]

Non-opposition is costly

The BJP didn’t forcefully counter the UPA government’s communal socialism. It’s paying for it in Rajasthan

Let there be no mistake: those who organised the violent mass agitation demanding entitlements that go with a scheduled tribe (ST) status, including its leader Kirori Singh Bainsla, are responsible for the deaths and injuries that resulted. Surely in a country where Chauri Chaura is taught in history textbooks, public protests involving burning down police stations and public transport buses can’t be called non-violent protests? Mr Bainsla’s claim to a Gandhian parallel—he was fasting while blocking railway traffic—is a macabre parody. The Gujjar riots are not about non-violence. They are about cynical use of violence and the threat of violence to press political demands.

And let there also be no mistake that even ‘non-violent’ tactics that disrupt normal life—blocking railways and holding up traffic—have no place in a constitutional democracy. As B R Ambedkar said, such methods are the “grammar of anarchy“. The political demands that the Gujjar protesters had should have been pressed in constitutional ways: through electoral politics and the judicial system. Arson and vandalism are crimes. Nothing in the Gujjar agitation must desensitise us from seeing them for what they are.

The police and law-enforcement authorities acted correctly. The loss of lives is unfortunate. But the police were not firing on a group of peaceful satyagrahis, but rather, on mobs that were resorting to mass violence. Mr Bainsla and his colleagues cannot escape moral responsibility for these deaths. They also cannot escape responsibility for diminishing the legitimacy of whatever genuine grievances some in the Gujjar community might have had.

These riots have come at a time when tensions between the BJP government in Rajasthan and the UPA government at the centre came to the fore after the terrorist attacks in Jaipur. The Congress Party is revelling at the Vasundhara Raje government’s discomfiture, at the hands of a monster that the UPA government nursed back to health.

It’s useful to be blunt about it. The rhetoric of ’social justice’, ‘reforms with a social face’ and ‘inclusive growth‘ is largely about doling out entitlements based on group identities. The prize—the status of ‘backwardness’, with its attendent benefits in terms of reservations in educational institutions, government jobs, and if the UPA government were to have its way, in the private sector too. The designation of backwardness was subject to electoral promises, not hard-data or economic rationale. Do this long enough and you run into the Gurjjar-Meena clashes in Rajasthan and the Dera Sacha Sauda tensions in Punjab. Continue to persist along this path, and such incidents will be repeated in hundreds of places. [The Acorn, 4 June 2007]

Dr Frankenstein will face his creation eventually, but the BJP cannot escape its share of blame for failing to prevent, or at least draw attention to, the UPA’s larger project of divide and rule. It did complain when entitlement were sought to be handed out along religious lines, calling it minority appeasement. But it remained cynically silent when entitlements were handed out along caste and ethnic lines.

A party claiming to represent the whole of India should have protested loudly inside and outside parliament when the UPA government began its divide and rule project. Why, even a party claiming to champion the interests of the Hindu majority should have protested loudly when its base was being vivisected. If the Congress Party has succeeded in pulling the rug from under the BJP it is only because the latter could not muster up the leadership and courage to speak out against entitlements. As the Gujjar riots indicate, it will have to play the game by the rules set by its opponents.

The secular demand for security

The right lesson for all political parties—including the BJP but especially for the Congress—is that there is a tangible electoral advantage to be had by being serious about forcefully countering terrorism. These are not merely the words of some opinionated blogger (or, for that matter, a columnist in The Indian Express). After the Gujarat election, they are revealed preferences of the electorate. The demand for security is secular in every sense of the word.

The writing is on the wall: internal security has become an electoral issue

The march of terrorism in Indian cities, along with the government’s inability to prevent attacks, this blog wrote this August, was “on the verge of crossing the chasm and (rightly) becoming a electoral issue. The parties that fail to see it are quite likely to pay a price”.

And in November, The Acorn noted that “if the UPA government’s pussyfooting on counter-terrorism was due to electoral calculations with an eye on the Muslim vote bank, here’s something for Congress Party strategists to think about: terrorist attacks across India are making security an aam aadmi electoral issue. Muslims are not likely to relish a situation where bombs go off every now and then putting them on the defensive. Conspiracy theories too are subject to diminishing returns; and one attack too many—as we have seen in the last couple of years—could cause a secular demand for security.”

That’s exactly what Shishir Gupta concludes from the results of the Gujarat assembly elections. Narendra Modi’s electoral victory owes itself to many factors. Yet the fact that his government delivered on security was not lost on Gujarat’s voters.

The right lesson for all political parties—including the BJP but especially for the Congress—is that there is a tangible electoral advantage to be had by being serious about forcefully countering terrorism. These are not merely the words of some opinionated blogger (or, for that matter, a columnist in The Indian Express). After the Gujarat election, they are revealed preferences of the electorate. The demand for security is secular in every sense of the word.