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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The importance of being Asif Ibrahim

The new IB chief's track record has made it impossible for the government to ignore his claim. But for all that, there is more at stake, writes Firdaus Ahmed. 

17 December 2012 - The dust has settled after the announcement that Asif Ibrahim is to be the next IB chief. The controversial issue was not so much on Ibrahim pipping at least three of his seniors to the post, but the fact that he is Muslim. It can be surmised that there could have been little difference between the professional records of his competitors. Professionalism implies being apolitical. Therefore, on the factor, political amenability, all four would have scored similarly.

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But there are two other things worth noting. One, this is a signal of the government's politics. The choice aptly symbolizes - and is meant to, we can be sure of that - a secular democratic India, though it is not quite India's 'Obama moment'. This is therefore a refreshing move of the Congress that has otherwise been perpetually on the brink of losing its political moorings. In effect, it is among the opening gambits for the forthcoming national polls that with Narendra Modi exercising his bid for a national role, will surely compel the grand old party to return to its ideological roots.
Whatever the clinching reason, Asif Ibrahim can hardly be envied. The Muslim community, or more appropriately the multiple communities across India that collectively comprise India's largest minority, has been enthused by the news. He, like it or otherwise, has the weight of their expectations riding on his shoulders, and that is the second noteworthy thing.
The IB, with internal security as remit, has been at odds with India's minority over at least a decade and half. The phenomenon of 'home grown' terrorism has placed Muslims at its cross hairs. The refrain in Muslim drawing rooms is that the terror stereotype has been deliberately foisted on it as a grand design of right wing extremist formations, with the media either unwittingly co-opted or barefacedly complicit. The IB, and its fellow organisations, such as ATS at state level and NIA at the Union, have at best gingerly faced up to the real face of 'home grown'.

Insofar as political motivation finds expression in policing action or intelligence reports, it is seen as ideological penetration of majoritarian extremists of the institutions of state and contamination of professionalism by a virulent strain of the otherwise unexceptionable conservative politics, cultural nationalism.
News reports have cryptically referred to Ibrahim's take on this that could do with some deconstruction. The venerable The Hindu writes, 'To his credit, Mr. Ibrahim was the first one to have a clear sense of the whole Indian Mujahideen movement within the organization.' Outlook has this to say: 'At a time none of us were aware of the Indian Mujahideen, I remember Ibrahim telling us, "Don't look to Pakistan after every terror attack. Look within too."'
While not self-evident, these observations suggest that Ibrahim subscribes to the dominant view that IM is the key source of 'home grown' terror. This has perhaps made him amenable to the government. However, the converse is also possible. Ibrahim may well be a skeptic on the intelligence agency-facilitated and media-generated 'IM' discourse.
There are other sources of such terror, some unexamined to the degree warranted, such as majoritarian extremists masquerading their handiwork as Muslim perpetrated. Clues to that effect have not been taken to their logical conclusion with a degree of professional rectitude; this has allowed the reputation of intelligence agencies and the police to come under a cloud in the minority perspective.
Ibrahim, with a reputation as a thorough professional, will no doubt have to contend with, at a minimum with some selective spring-cleaning, and at a maximum, detoxification. As he proceeds with this, insinuations raised on his nomination will get more strident. Since politics is set to get messier, he will be on a tight rope without a safety net.
The moot question is why the government thinks it necessary to entrust this task to a Muslim officer. The professional instinct of his contenders could equally have been relied on to undertake this. A cynical view in the Muslim commentary on the promotion has been that the government does not really want to reset the professionalism of the intelligence agencies. Entrusting the top job to a Muslim therefore can be its alibi, even while catching it votes: a case of accounting for two birds with one stone.
The unfortunate fact, however, is that officers like Hemant Karkare are getting scarcer. More disturbingly, the check on the motivated stereotype of the suspect Muslim has been marginalised to a narrow left-liberal circle. Even the Congress scion, Rahul Gandhi, cannot openly admit to the graver danger. Wikileaks informs of his venting his reservations instead to the American ambassador once over lunch.
It remains to be seen if two years hence Ibrahim's achievement goes beyond only reaching the pinnacle, or more significantly, once there making the necessary and well overdue difference. Assuming that there would be a government change by then, it is important to act now on this front, lest after another five years, and that too under the opposition's ascendant candidate, it becomes wholly impossible.
Firdaus Ahmed 
17 Dec 2012

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Taking on Mr. Modi’s Chief Cheerleader: Chetan Bhagat 3 December 2012
The final round in the fight for India’s soul is underway. Mr. Modi’s forthcoming triumph in the provincial elections in the western Indian state he heads is intended to set the stage for his elevation soon thereafter as the potential prime ministerial candidate of India’s conservative party, the BJP. One leader from of the competition, Ms. Sushma Swaraj, has already thrown in the towel for party leadership and prime ministerial ambition, citing Modi’s development record. The other, Mr. Arun Jaitley, is not known to command a mass following within or without the party. Of the official leader of the party, Mr. Nitin Gadkari, political obits are already past the draft stage.
The first blow of the final round has been struck by Mr. Modi’s unofficial spokeman, Mr. Chetan Bhagat. Earlier his outpourings in favour of his preferred leader were confined to his Sunday Timescolumn. Today they have been elevated to the op-ed space of the widely read, The Times of India(1 December 2012). The thesis this time round is essentially that “if India has to move forward, the voting public must wean itself off the Gandhi family.” QED!
With the “family” out of the way, in particular the princeling, Rahul Gandhi, Bhagat knows it would be cakewalk for his fighter in the ring, Mr. Modi. This explains his thrust on getting “the family out of the way,” which explains why his piece is misleadingly titled, “Out of the family way.” That his piece does not mention Mr. Modi’s name even once is yet another dead giveaway. There seems to be much to hide, and Bhagat, in doing so, knows this best.
To have Mr. Bhagat as an unpaid PR man can prove a boon for Mr. Modi’s incipient national campaign. After all, Bhagat’s self-description as a “best-selling novelist” is not incredible. It is, therefore, important to interrogate Mr. Bhagat, lest his writings going uncontested lend ballast on Mr. Modi’s journey to 7 Race Course Road.
Bhagat’s piece is ostensibly on the shortcomings of the conservative party and how these would prove debilitating its bid for power in 2014. By default, the ruling party stands to gain although it has little that Mr. Bhagat finds on offer. This owes to the dynastic impulse of “our feudal mindset”. Weaning ourselves off the Gandhi family to him is the first step to acknowledging the Sun rising in the west, Mr. Modi.
In Mr. Bhagat’s laundry list of the BJP’s shortcomings a discerning reader will fail to find mention on the party’s chief limitation: the nature of its subterranean connection with the wider rightist fraternity, the Sangh Parivar. This amounts to a resounding silence. Such sleights of hand explain why Bhagat is chief cheerleader and, therefore, need pointing out as relentlessly as Bhagat champions his champion.
To Bhagat, “the new India the youth wants to see - merit-based, efficient, accountable and progressive” – requires the BJP to reinvent itself; be less like the Congress. However, Bhagat, and many who agree with him, do not factor in the umbilical cord between the BJP and its mother entity, the RSS. Being management savvy and technocratic, they are politically na├»ve.
The “new India” in the world view of conservative extremists – that Mr. Bhagat is seemingly oblivious to - is at least a century-old in conception, situated as it is in the world view of triumphant fascism of the between-wars years in Europe. Since history has taken a beating in curriculum reinvention over the recent decade, the youth need reminding of this intellectual legacy of the party Bhagat promotes.
Bhagat expertly papers over the cracks by sandwiching “efficient, accountable” between “merit based” and “progressive” in his version of the vision of India’s youth. On “efficient,” it needs mention that authoritarian methods sometimes bear such result. After all, it was said that the trains ran on time during the Emergency. The model of “development” of Gujarat can instead be attributed to an extended, if undeclared, Emergency. Look at the fate of officers such as Sanjeev Bhatt. With hatchet men such as the former state home minister continuing if not prospering in politics, the common government official can surely sense which way the wind blows. As for “accountable,” even the formidable Vajpayee - the very same blaster-in-chief himself of India’s grand entry into the nuclear club - could not exact accountability for the absence of “raj dharma” in Gujarat of 2002.
This leaves “merit based” and “progressive” as the remaining yardsticks; in themselves inoffensive standards but worth a “dekho”. “Merit based” has been mantra of anti-reservationists, the ones who agree with Bhagat. Their reading of India is blind to India’s logic of caste – its defining feature if any. By making a case to privilege “merit”, their’s is an easy-to-see-through bid to remain interminably ahead. With starting blocks way ahead, there is little chance of the gap attenuating. To them, “merit” is a formula to stay on top. “Merit” busting is therefore of significance for the readers of this journal, most being disadvantaged at, and sometimes by, birth.
Lastly, Bhagat’s use of the term “progressive” is to stand it on its head. It’s an easy bid to steal the thunder, usually a property in this instance of the left. By progressive, Mr. Bhagat presumably means the alacrity with which Gujarat can attract the Tatas when divested off their land in West Bengal. What makes Gujarat able to do this and what prevents others? Answering this would reveal how self-serving Bhagat’s definition of “progressive” actually is; yet another instance of his expertise: word play.
Mr. Bhagat’s columns will get more strident as the national elections campaign draws closer. Silence in response may be misread as silence of the lambs. To do as he advises – overthrow the dynasty – would be to throw out the baby with the bathwater. To do so would pave way for a pracharak as prime minister. Though Mr. Modi’s self-exculpatory version of the 2002 presents himself at best as “The Nero of 2002,” history knows best that this is a charitable honorific. And that is enough to expose the cheer-leader for what he is not, a political analyst.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The strange case of 2nd Lt. Kalia 
The story of a heroic soldier captured by the enemy and tortured to death stirred strong emotions during the Kargil war. Why, then, is there a lid of secrecy around his death, wonders Firdaus Ahmed. 
30 November 2012 -

The father of Saurabh Kalia, a Kargil martyr, has moved the Supreme Court asking for its directions to the government to take up a case of war crimes by the Pakistani army during the Kargil War. Kalia was leading a patrol to ascertain reports on Pakistani occupation of Kargil heights when it is alleged he was captured by Pakistanis who had infiltrated and occupied Indian winter vacated posts on 14 May 1999. The charge is that Pakistani troops then subjected him to torture that killed him. His brutalised body was returned to India on 9 June, along with those of five of his comrades.

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The International Criminal Court at The Hague can undertake such trials but since the war took place prior to its formation, and neither India nor Pakistan is a signatory to the Rome Statute, cannot take up this case. Nor can the International Court of Justice; its jurisdiction is limited to cases brought before it if both parties agree to it. The ICJ remit is on contentious cases over which there is disagreement over issues of law or fact, a conflict or a clash over legal views and interest; not in criminal cases.
Therefore, with the ICC and ICJ ruled out, there is only the 'universal jurisdiction' clause of the Convention. The problem would in this case be of ascertaining the facts. India's case is that this is a straight-forward war crime. This can easily be established in case the autopsy report is made available. However, India has kept this confidential. It is not certain if India has shared the report with Pakistan either.

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Kalia's patrol - which had been sent up to ascertain reports of Pakistani forces being sighted in Indian defence posts vacated over the winter - would certainly have been at least a section strength. Since only six men were reported captured and killed, the fact of their capture must have been made known to Indian authorities once the remainder of the patrol returned to base. Also, since Kalia had only recently been commissioned, the patrol would most certainly have had a Junior Commissioned Officer, familiar with the terrain and defence layout, as his deputy. The debriefing report of this official and the patrol report would establish whether Kalia was captured.
Indeed it is not certain from India's remonstration with the Pakistan then that India was aware of the details of the case. The press release goes on to state: 'It is further requested that a full account of the date, place and circumstance of capture, period of detention and particulars concerning the wounds and cause of death are communicated to the Government of India immediately.' It is clear that the patrol report had little to say on circumstance of capture, for if this was so India did not have to ask Pakistan to clarify the circumstance.
It is possible that the patrol separated under the impact of the ambush, and those who made it back had little clue as to what happened to those who did not. This is not surprising, given that the patrol was perhaps not duly prepared for such an encounter - as the dimensions of the Kargil intrusion were very vague at the time. This uncertainty is clear in the diplomatic note. To infer that they were captured, tortured and killed is therefore to stretch a possibility. India should have pressed for an investigation, and made its case stronger by sharing with Pakistan the reason for its stand: the autopsy report.
The circumstantial evidence does not help India's case. It begs imagination as to why Pakistan would return the bodies in case they bear marks of evidence of torture and mutilation. They would not have admitted to having them in first place. That they did so indicates that any disfigurement could be attributable to the effects of cold from exposure for the duration of two to three weeks at high altitude, type of wounds suffered in the firefight and even wild animals as they lay there unattended. This is possible in case the bodies were out in the open where they came under fire. This permits the alternative possibility that the patrol was not captured as the Indian case makes out.
Further, it is now well-known that the Pakistani troops in occupation of the heights were of the paramilitary, Gilgit Scouts, largely locals from Northern Areas. They are of the Shia community and not known to be fundamentalist or anti-India. Earlier reports of Kashmiri 'mujahedeen', as projected by Pakistan for plausible deniability, in league with extremist allies in Pakistan as being the forces on the heights were soon proven false. It can be surmised that only extremists filled with hatred may have had any reason to torture the officer and his patrol members. Since such elements did not form part of the troops participating in the war, the motive is difficult to substantiate.
Lastly, the lack of clarity in India's case suggests the reason why it has been less than full throated in its pursuit. Indeed, the allegations could well have been part of whipping up national feelings in the build up phase of the war in early June 1999. It helped firm up national support for India's reaction in the form of a localized border war. As a counter factual, the case could have been taken further in the event there was a need to expand the war.
Nevertheless, Pakistan is bound by the Geneva Convention to investigate the allegations. The role of its army can be established if there are reports of capture of Indian troops by their troops in their daily situation reports. In case such situation reports are accessed by an inquiry then Pakistan would be hard put to explain the deaths of the officer and the soldiers in their custody as demanded by India.
While India's taking up of the case with Pakistan is in public knowledge, Pakistan's reply is not known. Pakistan would do well to clarify, for in doing so it could put the ball back in India's court, compelling India to review its allegations. However, the levels of trust between the two states being such, neither Indian allegations nor Pakistani clarifications are likely to be credible to the other side.
Truth is said to be the first casualty in war. Propaganda of yore, and lately, information warfare, have ensured this. The cliche stands proven by the nature of the first casualty of the Kargil War, Second Lieutenant Kalia. Hopefully, the case will ensure that next time around, international humanitarian law is respected better. The unfortunate part is that the nationalist hysteria unleashed by Kalia's return to the headlines suggests that there is no guarantee against another such chance.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The unfolding gameplan of majoritarian extremists

Special Reports

It is not the success of the majoritarian extremists as much as the government's weakness that is keeping this costly charade going.
The cat is out of the bag. The gameplan of extremists subscribing to cultural nationalism, Hindutva, is so simple, as to make them appear simple minded. Alternatively, they think others are simple minded; else they could not have been so transparently deceptive.
The game plan is one of deception. This has been well known among those watching them over the past half a decade at least. In the run up to the last elections, when they suffered under the delusion of regaining power, they conducted a bombing campaign against metros - Delhi, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai etc.
The tell-tale signs they left behind were stark - if only the blind will take a look. Take the inexplicable recovery of bombs in Surat for instance. Their more brazen use of disguise and Chaplinesque efforts at terror elsewhere are too well-known to recount. The case of raising the Pakistani flag in Hubli is a mild example. Their strategy was to make it look to the gullible media as though this was handiwork of the Indian Mujahedeen, IM. The organization was itself a useful invention to serve their ends.
This did not help them in winning the elections, but it did throw many off their scent. They succeeded to the extent of manufacturing a constituency that believes that terrorism perpetrated by Muslim extremists is a graver threat. Using this as a spring board, they have started off their campaign for New Delhi 2014. Their latest series of actions, bespeaks of a similar, if more ambitious, gameplan.
They took advantage of the social media-induced collective reaction by the minority to the happenings in Assam. While the doctored images of atrocities from the east have been spread by sources of equally extreme persuasion in Pakistan, as claimed by the Union home secretary, there is ambiguity surrounding the origin of threat messages to north-easterners. It is taken by default as originating from Muslim sources. However, that these could well have their dubious parentage cannot be discounted.
The advantages that accrue for them are legion. They get to paint the minority, already on the defensive, into a corner. They manage to give an ethnic conflict an all-India communal colour, thereby heightening the perception of threat of the Muslim “Other” that they have so studiously manufactured over the past decade. They can keep the government on the backfoot, one that is already under pressure on multiple fronts including the political fight with the opposition baying against crony capitalism.
How have they exposed themselves? Firstly, the RSS was too sprightly in cashing in on the SMS episode. They were all over TV screens on railway platforms out to defend the North Eastern citizens fleeing the southern capital where the BJP rules. Secondly, the bomb blasts that fizzled out in Pune are another give away. As the Pune police let on, these were the handiwork of mischief makers. Surely, this was a sign of exultation on the departure of the Union home minister. Third, the infiltration by agents provocateurs of the mass solidarity gathering in Azad Maidan on 11 August in the hope that police over-reaction would lead to a bloodbath, can be spotted in their belatedly ruing the police’s uncharacteristic but praiseworthy professional handling of the situation. Lastly, the “encounter” deaths in Batla House earlier and the custodial murder of Qateel Siddiqui, have helped clean up their tracks. The case on the bomb blasts can safely be closed in public memory with the “perpetrators” eliminated.
The government is surely not oblivious. It is, however, too much on the ropes to be able to launch a counter-attack. The ruling party does not have the political resources for turning back the tide of deception-induced, media-fanned suspicion of the minority. It also cannot take the extremists head on since it would damage India’s diplomatic position that Pakistan is at the root of all of India’s ills. Therefore, it is not the success of the majoritarian extremists as much as the government’s weakness that is keeping this costly charade going.
If the government is not going to do its job and the Hindutva-inspired extremists are going to keep up their momentum, there is little for those targeted to do than to keep their fingers pointed at the culprits. This is an effort to such an end. Doing so is necessary lest 7 Race Course Road be usurped and the “idea of India” subverted come 2014. There is no question of going silently into gas chambers.
But, more consequentially, the Qur'anic injunction of excel all in good works makes more sense, since the mud that they sling will then simply not stick.
The author blogs at
This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 September 2012 on page no. 6

Sunday, September 23, 2012

More than just a visit

By Firdaus Ahmed

The complaint of Mr. Vivek Katju, a retired diplomat, against his views being ‘censored’ by the AIR, has featured in the press. The question in particular on the program ‘Charcha’ on AIR was on whether the prime minister should visit Pakistan. Mr. Katju’s reply was in the negative. The complaint has served not only to attract attention to ‘censorship’ but also to Mr. Katju’s view that the prime minister should not be considering visiting Pakistan. On the latter, is Mr. Katju right? 

It is possible that Mr. Katju is wrong, but he is entitled to his views. He is also entitled to airing these and having them carried by the national broadcaster. However, this is not the first time Mr. Katju has attempted to exercise influence on the trajectory of India-Pakistan relations. His earlier foray has been recorded by General Musharraf in his self-serving autobiography, In the Line of Fire.

The general having elevated himself from CEO to president had alighted at Agra with high expectations. India’s surprise announcement reaching out to the troublemaker at Kargil, one who had derailed the promising Lahore peace process, had led to the general imagining that India had a mind to resolve the Kashmir dispute his way. However, Musharraf noted in his book that Mr. Katju, then a bureaucrat in the MEA with a seat at the negotiation table, played a role in holding Mr. Vajpayee back at a critical juncture in the talks. The rest as they say, that has since included a near war and at least one crisis, is now history.   

Mr. Katju’s is just a pre-emptive salvo from the better known quarters. Mr. Katju’s views, no doubt well founded after a lifetime in service of Indian diplomacy in hot spots such as Afghanistan and in hot seats such as the Pakistan desk, are also widely shared by those with less exposure and reflection. These are the less visible vested political interests on the Indian side that prefer a communal polarization in South Asia, one reflected in and fed by the interstate face-off. They are not only not averse to seeing this cut straight through Indian society, but instead prefer it. The advantage these forces take of seemingly professional opinion, such as voiced by Mr. Katju, is indeterminate.

Additionally, it is also indeterminate as to how much of the strategic opinion is informed by ‘soft’ cultural nationalism, the hard variant of which is propagated by the communal forces. The extent of subscription to cultural nationalist tenets by officials has been understudied, deliberately so since finding it to be consequential would detract from India’s secular credentials.

Secondly, Mr. Katju’s opinion cannot but have been informed by his life experience, that would perhaps include the tremendous challenges faced by the Kashmiri Pandit community. Having also been exposed to the underside of the Pakistani establishment, Mr. Katju cannot but exert to warn as he does.

Cumulatively, this suggests that Pakistan related strategizing is not without its limitations in terms of well springs. It is important to be clear eyed about such possible contamination of strategic prescriptions. Opinion’s such as that of Mr. Katju can then be taken with a pinch of salt. Acknowledging that such opinion and such opinion makers do not have monopoly over strategic rationality, is the first step in moving to examine alternatives that otherwise remain unexamined due to lack of imprimature by strategic ‘experts’.

The case for the prime minister’s visit is one such. The same yardstick of strategic bias informing opinion, used here to examine Mr. Katju’s opinion, has been applied to Dr. Manmohan Singh’s hope of repairing India-Pakistan relations. His strategic preference is taken as one informed by nostalgia, quite like the work of Mr. IK Gujral earlier. The good that came out of the previous instance of Punjabiat impacting policy has been the ‘composite dialogue’ process. That a dialogue is into its third iteration after its severest test at 26/11 suggests the power of the idea. A prime ministerial visit would ensure resumption of the dialogue in its composite format, as had been forged finally in the Vajpayee-Musharraf joint statement of 2004. Therefore, even if the origin of the strategic preference is not much difference, judging it differently must be in terms of its positive consequence.

But, the lion must be bearded in its own den and on its terms for the case for the visit to be carried. In other words, strategic rationality must be deployed to argue in favour of such a visit. India’s policy is one of expanding and strengthening the pro-peace constituency in Pakistan. This is to be done to the extent that eventually they take over the democratic space in Pakistan, constricting the military-mullah combine. Clearly, if a policy is to be carried through to its logical conclusion in a democratic peace, the prime minister must under take the mission. Not doing so would leave the extremists on both sides in a position to dictate the interstate agenda.

Given this as making strategic sense, the question is now one of timing. The government having been on the back foot over the past two years has just chosen to break out with a slew of second generation economic reforms. Since this can be expected to draw political backlash, it is unlikely the government can sustain yet another policy initiative, this time in the foreign policy field. Being of neo-liberal inclination, it has chosen to prioritise economics over foreign policy. In effect, that Dr. Singh is not going is certainly not because Mr. Katju’s say so.

Taking this as time gained to set back the intellectual sway of ‘naysayers’ in the strategic discourse is the best way to build the climate and momentum to ensure the visit takes place, perhaps not of Dr. Singh but by the next prime minister. The fight will also help keep away figures from the prime ministerial chair having no interest in making the visit in first place. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reaching beyond its brief 
Outsourcing the policy-making function is bad enough, but the government should certainly not have allowed trespass on its domain by the Naresh Chandra Task Force, writes Firdaus Ahmed. 

10 September 2012
 - Set up in July last year, the Naresh Chandra Task Force submitted its report to the prime minister in May this year. According to the PMO website, "The Task Force was mandated to review existing processes, procedures and practices in the national security system and to suggest measures to strengthen the national security apparatus."
Such wording allows for a very expansive reading of the mandate; that may be why the PMO also tells us that the "Task Force has made an assessment of the security scenario facing the country and made recommendations to the Government." Reviewing a system is quite different from giving advice on today's geopolitics and internal conflicts. Moreover, the policy domain is that of the government. If it wanted recommendations on this score, it would have mandated the task force. Such outsourcing of the policy-making function would itself be breathtaking, but permitting trespass on its domain by the task force is much worse.
Second, as a practical matter, mixing up the two is unwise. For instance, it is reasonable to assume that the redesign of security proposed by the task force is in line with its policy recommendations. But what happens if the government is not in agreement with the policy plank? In such case, it cannot reasonably redesign security systems that are geared towards such a plank.

In the rest of this article, I want to focus on the task force's recommendation on peace talks with Maoists - which confirms my suspicion that not only has government money been wasted on the task force, but so has the opportunity to make headway in defence reform.
The recommendation, as reported in the press, makes four points. One is that the talks must be so as to divide the Maoists into two camps: those in favour of talks and those against talks. This is to have a strategic benefit in weakening them. The second is that the precondition of Maoists to cease operations is not necessary for talks to be initiated and progressed. This makes sense if the intent is to divide the movement - why wait? Third, is that military operations must continue, lest the Maoists use the opportunity to recoup. The latter is insight the task force draws from the example in Andhra Pradesh. Lastly, the task force has advised on increasing the army's presence in the area through a number of mechanisms, such as setting up training facilities.


Secondly, the idea that operations need not cease in order to talk makes sense. After all, talks are a way to get operations to cease from both sides. This was a missing link in the policy under the previous home minister, P Chidambaram. He had insisted that the Maoists demonstrate good faith through a ceasefire, even if a temporary one, before the government agreed to talk. This was suggestive of arrogance on the government's part. Being responsible for the people inconvenienced by operations from both sides, it is incumbent on it to proactively pursue every option, including that of talks, to end the predicament of its people.
In the event, the task force's reminder is timely, but discredited by its motive of 'divide-and-rule'. Yet, it is fairly evident that the government is not averse to such advice, since it had used the talks process earlier to expose and decapitate the Maoist leadership. The killing of 'Azad' is a case in point. Such instrumental use of talks eventually destroys the strategic options, and leave military action as the only choice, even though its limitations as a conflict resolution tool have been consistently demonstrated in all of India's many and manifold conflicts. A government's contract with its people involves concentrating on conflict resolution, not conflict management.
The third point - urging that military operations should continue while talks are on is another irresponsible recommendation. If the government were to take this up, it would amount to an abdication of the its responsibility to own up to its policy. Implying that it is acting in accordance with the recommendation of a task force is to pass on the onus of policy and decision making to the task force. The very purpose of talks, to facilitate ceasefire in order to forge trust and confidence for the more significant part of a comprehensive agreement, is then lost.
Last, is the issue of extending the army's presence for training the paramilitary. Such deployments are to help with the local economy and to wean away locals from Maoists. Clearly, there are better ways to revive the local economy. Training the paramilitary to take on Maoists in their strongholds is at best a long-term goal, which signals that for the moment the government will not do much to help tribal communities. Yet again an example from the AfPak experience in the failure to train the Afghan National Security Forces to take on the Taliban suggests that this is yet another recommendation bereft of good sense.
What's more likely is that the initial deployments are to perhaps serve as bridgeheads for deployment of the army if and when it is ready to give up its Kashmir obsession. This is an even more problematic possibility.
Clearly, the task force has extended itself. It cannot possibly have had the time and expertise to take on two tasks, both of providing the government with a proto-national security policy, as also suggesting the restructuring necessary to work it. Since the report is currently under examination by stakeholders, it seems this exercise in futility is being taken to its logical 'do nothing thereafter' conclusion as is the case with most reports by government-appointed commissions. That might not be such a bad ending after all, in this case.
Firdaus Ahmed 
10 Sep 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012

A secure minority, for a secure nation

The dark clouds gathered since the early nineties have not quite dissipated. Inevitably so, since 
the actions that should have been taken were never taken up, writes Firdaus Ahmed. 

20 August 2012 - In the wake of the Gujarat carnage exactly ten years ago, 
my debut column in India Together (see this link) addressed the issue of 
security for India's largest minority. I believe now, as I did then, that the 
multiple Muslim communities across India's geography can enhance their 
security, by, among other measures, relying on the state and the vast liberal 
majority among the non-Muslims. We must be wary of becoming pawns in
 political games at the subcontinental level, and also pawns of party politics. 
The only ones who gain when we fail to strengthen our internal conversations 
are mafia dons, Pakistani intelligence operatives and the propaganda apparatus 
of the Sangh Parivar.

In light of the events over the past month beginning with the riots in Bodo areas 
of Assam and culminating in a mass exit of North Easterners from south Indian cities,
 it is apt to revisit this point, and the larger issues addressed in the earlier article.


It is here the conspiracy theory can be given the benefit of doubt. The departure of north-
easterners, beginning in Bangalore, spread to Channai and Hyderabad. While the police 
are investigating the origin of the rumours that instigated the flight, they would do well to include 
majoritarian extremists in their ambit.
Such groups have profited under the rightist government in Karnataka, evident from periodic 
reports of depredations ranging from moral policing to more insidious exploits. The alacrity of 
the arrival of workers of the rightist formation, RSS, on to railway station to 'commiserate' 
(some of them wielding canes!) with the victims, suggests a potent line of investigation. Their 
message was no doubt one of religious solidarity with Hindu Bodos, even while deprecating Muslims 
for being 'just like that only'.
Shifting to the wider issue of minority security, it can be predicted to figure prominently in the long 
run up to elections two years hence. The first shots have been fired with the Gujarat chief 
minister unambiguously using the term 'Bangladeshis' in his Independence Day onslaught on the 
prime minister. The issue of infiltrators has returned. It was last in the news when BJP-ruled 
Rajasthan rounded up a few in wake of the bomb blasts in Jaipur. Clearly, the land issue in 
Bodoland will have an all-India resonance, yielding up as it does a stick for the otherwise 
politically bereft opposition.
It therefore seems prescient on part of the MIM MP from Hyderabad to have led a medical 
relief mission to the camps of internally displaced people in Assam. Such expression of 
solidarity is a useful broadcast that Muslim communities cannot be put upon in isolation. 
It is useful deterrence of another Nellie massacre or Gujarat carnage. While it does give courage 
to vulnerable communities, there is no call to restrict access to this aid to the minority alone as the 
MIM at its self-congratulatory best states.

For full article see

First, the interest of the global community in the South Asia region during the last decade was 
an opportunity to resolve the problems between India and Pakistan, with a global 'stamp' to a 
mutually agreed way forward. But this opportunity was wasted, and now that the West is preparing 
to exit its war in Afghanistan, the two South Asian countries await the impending departure with 
bated breath and preparations for a return to rivalry. While the implications for Kashmir are easily 
comprehended, India's other Muslims too will be affected.
The second direction along which the government was hesitant to proceed was in pursuing right
 wing terrorists. A significant feature of the past decade was terror bombings. These were popularly 
attributed, by a media that should have known better, to Muslim perpetrators. Enlarging the line up 
of suspects to include hyper-nationalists would have helped greatly, but the Centre decided to let 
sleeping dogs lie. This strategy will probably come home to roost in the run-up to elections. 'Sleeper cells', 
particularly those with Bengali (read 'Bangladeshi') features, will once again be in the news as fifth column.
The lack of any notable progress in other promising areas keeps the communal scene fertile for disruption. 
The major plank of employment, recommended in the Sachar Committee report, has been stymied by the 
government's under-prepared brief in the Supreme Court for inclusion of the backward groups of the minority 
in the quota system. Second, the RK Raghavan-led SIT has inexplicably made any hope of justice recede. 
The eventual outcome will be akin to apprehending the sailors on Haji Mastan's ship even as Haji Mastan 
remains free.
Lastly, recompense for minority members wrongly arrested for terror attacks has only been done in a few 
cases in Hyderabad. Youth apprehended for the Malegaon attacks are still in jail despite better knowledge 
of the perpetrators. This brings to fore the fourth and last point, that the wheels of justice have been slow 
and unsteady in nailing Hindutva-inspired terrorists. Lt Col Purohit is mounting a counter-attack presenting 
himself as a mole, while a lead conspirator turned approver, Swami Aseemanand, has reneged.
The government, fearing the electoral price of the tag of minority 'appeaser', is unlikely to take any of its 
own initiatives any further. This may seem politic, but a resulting loss of the minority vote may end up 
helping its rival to power, bringing back the toxicity of its philosophy and endangering certainly the nation, 
if not the state.
So to answer the question directly, India is indeed less secure. It is the price of a wasted decade. But two 
years being a long time in politics, the government can yet turn to complete its unfinished agenda.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The locus of controversy over Mr. Modi’s remarks has shifted from the contents of his interview to the internal politics of a regional party of which the interviewer was a member. In the melee, there is danger of Mr. Modi’s remarks passing uncontested into history. The risk of dwelling on them any further is in giving them more column space, thereby adding to his original intent in giving the interview of gaining greater political acceptability for himself in his run up not so much for provincial elections due soon, but for national hustings soon thereafter. However, not to engage with them would be to have readers give him the benefit of the doubt.

While it is a truism that unless held guilty in a court of law, a person is to be taken as innocent, the problem with allowing Mr. Modi that status is that the evidence that could have been used in a court of law has in the years of his being at the helm been systematically removed or reworked. As a result even the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team has been unable to gain access to prosecutable evidence. While this should really have triggered a line of investigation into the ‘cover up’, as prompted by some courageous police officers in Gujarat, the SIT has taken Mr. Modi’s administration at its word. That is to give him more than his due.

Thankfully for history, the Amicus Curiae, also appointed by the SC, has a different story to tell. His differing take lends balance to the suspension of disbelief by Mr. Raghavan of SIT fame. Therefore, there is no reason to take Mr. Modi at his word in the interview. He cannot but be expected to defend his case in the manner he has. And yet, the content of the interview is chilling. Take for instance Mr. Modi’s exhortation: ‘think about how many Muslims were protected then! If they were to be killed systematically, who would have been spared today?’ In other words, Muslims, spared of a worse fate, should really be grateful! After all, he insists he stopped the ‘rioting’, stating that, ‘I think I managed to stop the rioting.’ In the same breath, he lets on: ‘I will not admit that I couldn’t.’ In other words, he is a saviour since he tried to stop the ‘riots’ but couldn’t!

Two points bear mention. Firstly, the use of the term, ‘riots’, suggests that the two communities were slugging it out. This is hardly likely in light of his version of the first 72 hours: ‘There hasn’t been even one police gun shot, no lathi charge… But, here people were arrested in advance.’ It bears investigation as to which ‘people’ were arrested. It can be surmised that these were of the minority. In effect, the minority was disarmed. Therefore, the question of a ‘riot’, and its two-sided implication, does not arise. Also, since he says there was not ‘even one police gun shot’, the rioters who should have been stopped in their tracks were instead handled with kid gloves. Had the besieged minority been rioting instead, as national statistics consistently bear out there would have been a deadly toll.

Secondly, this means that space was created for majoritarian supremacists to take center stage. He claims in self-vindication he gave ‘shoot at sight’ order to stop the ‘riots’. The numbers are already in the public domain as to who died in such firing. These were certainly not the ones later caught boasting in a Tehelka sting operation on their bravado.

Mr. Modi brings the abject state of affairs elsewhere to claim that his record is better on two counts: one is on prosecution and sentencing in Gujarat cases as against that meted out in the 1984 carnage against Sikhs; the second is on encounters. There is a difference between what happened in Gujarat and elsewhere. In the anti Sikh carnage in Delhi, there is no allegation of state complicity. As for encounters, in none of the other states were cover up stories fomented with a dual purpose: to embellish the image of the political head as a nationalist strongman, while at the same time tarnishing that of the minority as a subverted fifth column susceptible to infiltration by terrorists. In any case, instances elsewhere cannot legitimize what happens in Gujarat.

To tide over the controversy, the interviewer in a damage limitation exercise, has claimed: ‘I asked him questions that no one has.’ This obfuscates the fact that it was a tame interview amounting to image building for Mr. Modi. Take for instance the poser: ‘But they say you were in the control room.’ It is well known that the ministerial henchmen of Mr. Modi were assigned such duty including one who has served time behind bars subsequently in the false encounters case. Therefore such questions figuring in an interview damns its motives.

Finally, is the question of the military being called out timely. This increases in significance in light of the current day Bodo-Muslim clashes in Assam in which the Assam government has been critical of the new procedures in place for getting the Army to react in internal crisis. The procedures date to the Vohra Committee report recommendations to the GOM in 2001. The cases of over resort to the military in the eighties and nineties had resulted in a hardening of the military’s position against intervening in such crisis. The military was hard pressed by its internal security commitments and over extended by simultaneous calls on it when in peace stations. The older rules that enabled the DC to call out the army in aid to civil authority had consequently been reframed. The current procedures call for such demands for military aid to be routed from the state to the home ministry and thereafter to the defence ministry. A decision is then taken. This can prove too late for victims as evident from the case in Assam lately. More importantly, delay results in deepening of divides with trans- generational effects. Clearly, there is a case to revisit the procedures, particularly since the CRPF that was expanded with the purpose of relieving the army from such duty is itself bogged down in Central India.

In the Gujarat case, the army that was then deployed at the borders in Op Parakram could not be made available in a real time frame. Clearly, the onus of stamping out fires then devolved on Mr. Modi. This gave Mr. Modi and his supporters the time they needed. Therefore even if we are to follow Mr. Modi’s advice, ‘The Supreme Court asked for an investigation to be conducted. We should trust that’; he still needs to answer for incompetence. Since his campaign rhetoric focuses on his competence, revealing Mr. Modi’s record is in order, the latest attempt at embellishment notwithstanding.

Mr. Modi has expressed a preference thus, ‘If Modi has sinned, then Modi should be hanged’. But his only reflects a medieval mindset that conjured up the ‘action-reaction’ thesis. Its implication for his fitness for his current office is for the voters of his state to decide on, but it certainly disqualifies him from aspiring to higher office. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Milligazette, 16-31 July 12, p. 10

Chetan Bhagat’s latest column in the Sunday Times (the masthead of the Times of India on Sundays redolent of a publication in UK), The Underage Optimist, is titled ‘And the people’s choice is…’ ( He considers two candidates for the answer, Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. Bhagat exercises his democratic right in favour of Mr. Modi. There is nothing exceptionable with either his debunking of the Congress ‘crown prince’ or his political inclination for Mr. Modi. The issue is in his arriving at Mr. Modi as the ‘people’s choice’.

He claims that 82 percent of those voting on a poser from him on his Facebook page between the two political personalities weighed in favour of Mr. Modi, helping Modi beat Rahul Gandhi by ‘an astonishing 16 times’. Those who follow Bhagat’s socio-political writings in his columns and op-eds as against his bestsellers are by now familiar with his political predilections. Yet again in a free country there is no problem with that. It can be expected that those agreeing with him would also be linked to his site on Facebook. Therefore, if the vote goes a particular way, it cannot but be otherwise. From that to stretch the argument and prejudge the national election two years away is, to quote a phrase in his article, ‘a bit much’.

The matter of using his column for propagating a candidate as he has been indulging in over the past is also one between him and his editor. However, it is important to equally consistently dissect Bhagat’s argument in favour of his choice, lest through biased propagation by his influential supporters Mr. Modi does end up acquiring the prime minister’s chair in the real forum as against Facebook.

Bhagat, as befitting an IIT-IIM graduate, sensibly builds up his case as a comment on the manner Mr. Modi is acquiring a following in cyberspace among the youth. He caveats his advocacy by requiring Mr. Modi get ‘lucky, stay humble, has some genuine remorse and make the right moves.’ Getting ‘lucky’ is meaningless. ‘Staying humble’ is a notably tall order for Mr. Modi, as his recent campaign against his bete noire in the right wing, Mr. Joshi, indicates. It is the contradiction between the latter two – ‘genuine remorse’ and ‘making the right moves’ – that needs interrogation.

‘Genuine remorse’ cannot be felt and expressed as part of making the ‘right moves’. While remorse is right, it cannot be a right ‘move’. It cannot be taken as a means to an end. It has to be an end in itself. Genuine remorse in this case would amount to abdication, not only of the gaddi but by taking political sanyas. A life spent thereafter in service of the victims is one that can efface the blot, since the state and its judicial system has not deigned to bring justice to bear. However, since neither this is not about to happen, it is best that Mr. Modi be shown the door democratically. 

Will that happen? Not if the likes of Mr. Bhagat manipulate their fan following into turning in a majoritarian verdict. Even if backed by the majority, it would hardly be ‘democratic’, since political theory well knows that majority and democracy are not synonymous. A graduate with a technical degree such as Mr. Bhagat cannot be expected to know better.

A decade of uninhibited manipulation of the evidence in the Gujarat carnage using a cowed down state machinery and docile police has led to Mr. Modi being given the benefit of the doubt by the likes of the Supreme Court appointed SIT led by RK Raghavan. However, his supporters are ever willing to keep skepticism in suspended animation blinded by majoritarian supremacism.

This does not imply, as Bhagat suggests, a willingness to forget someone else’s past in order to gain a future. It is instead to be well aware of the past and not be bothered by it. Bhagat’s suggestion that the nation should follow such a cohort is to be blind to their motives going beyond a development orientation as Mr. Bhagat selectively presents them.

Bhagat’s selective blindness tells more about him than does his column. It is for this reason his case needs interrogation. And the fact that as a ‘youth icon’ – in the wikipedia’s words – his words may be taken as gospel in youth liable to mistake the credentials – IIT-IIM – as those of Almighty himself. It is no wonder then that Bhagat in his conclusion advises the BJP to go about ‘mobilizing people to vote’.

There remains one last bone to pick. Bhagat in drawing up his negative contrast of Rahul Gandhi to his champion has Gandhi ‘hiding whenever there is a national crisis.’ Bhagat can be forgiven for not knowing where Mr. Modi was in late February 2002, since Bhagat was perhaps over in Hong Kong busy with investment banking.

But, where was Mr. Modi hiding during the national crisis in rajdharma? Keeping his political buddies in police control rooms, Mr. Modi was certainly not busying himself with preempting the carnage at the controversial meeting on the evening of 27 February 2002 in his residence office. The SIT claims he was not busy precipitating it either.

The vote on this due in 2014 will surely confine Bhagat’s ‘people’s choice’ as PM of his Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The fog of jungle warfare 
Firdaus Ahmed

7 July 2012 - Sixteen tribals, claimed to be innocent by no less than the Union Tribal Affairs minister, were killed one night late last month in 'encounters' in Chhatisgarh. Apparently, three Maoists were also killed in the operation, and six CRPF men sustained injuries as well. No inquiry has been ordered, with the CRPF top brass privy to the internal report convincing the home minister that none is necessary.
However, after 'fact finding', civil society activists such as Professor Nandini Sundar assert that civilians died that night even though no Maoists were in sight. In the absence of an inquiry, reconstruction of what happened can only be from news reports.


The intrepid Times of India reporter, Rakhi Chakraborty, reporting from the general area after the incident, paints a picture of the general area as one that has witnessed several explosions of improvised explosive devices along the lone road in the area. The camps of the CRPF are along the road and have been engaged in self-protection and defensive action restricted to road opening for logistics access. Beyond lies the forest into which governmental authority does not penetrate, nor does its armed police. In effect, the CRPF in the camps was unfamiliar with the terrain and not up to the offensive operations by night in the middle of the forest.
It is no wonder then that as the operation got underway they 'encountered' opposition. Arriving at the village in question in which the Maoists were said to be in a meeting in the presence of villagers, the CRPF reports that it drew fire, whereupon it was forced to fire back in self-defence. It is possible that the Maoists were surprised by the boldness of the CRPF to have penetrated the jungle. In this case, it would likely to have been led by tribal SPOs who have terrain knowledge and are adept in jungle movement. However, it is difficult for a large column moving in the jungle to maintain surprise. It is too much to expect of a motley force to tactically maneuver into cordon silently and then spring the surprise.


At this point one can expect of a trained force reassertion of command and control and fire control, beginning from corporal rank upwards. However, knowing the complexion of the force and aware of training levels of the CRPF, it is very likely the converse occurred.
It is not unlikely that the officer in charge was to the middle of the column since the front elements would have been under their respective corporals and warrant officers. By the time the hierarchy would have gained situational awareness, much ammunition would have been expended. Firings in such situations by inadequately trained troops is usually prophylactic and also to expiate their own fear. Under such firing, it is difficult for the leader to move, gain situational awareness and ascendancy over his troops once again.
The kind of leadership required for this can be expected to be missing in armed police forces. Intimate supervision by their cadre officers is absent since cadre officers who are superior to those at the frontline are divested of authority as the troops are operating in support of the police, led by the district SP from the IPS. Those supervising operations are comfortably away from the frontline in headquarters operations rooms.
Such a leadership vacuum is not without effect. SPOs, due to their local knowledge and tribal instinct for the jungle, become more venturesome. Since they lead columns and therefore bear higher risk, they cannot but be allowed greater leeway. The cost is, in a firefight they would likely adopt a 'Rambo' profile. The police and CRPF in their wake, less adept in jungle lore, is equally likely to be trigger happy, but out of funk, with the action being a form of release.
In a jungle with swaying trees, rustling leaves and varying patterns of moonlight and dark, every bush can be imagined as a Maoist or with a Maoist lurking behind it. This is how more ammunition gets 'poofed off' than warranted. This is probably how 16 bodies got lined up that night.
An inquiry would certainly not have revealed all this, by asking about ammunition and the numbers who fired. The higher the numbers, the greater the chaos, easily explaining the deaths. Even an honest inquiry would instead have looked at the information, the planning and preparation, the tactical reaction and the contingency responses. More likely it would have been to push the muck under the carpet. The psychological and emotive aspect of combat, brought out here, would certainly have been missed. The confidential inquiry after the Chintalnar episode of 2010, in which 75 CRPF bravehearts were killed by Maoists, has no doubt pointed out the gaps. These have over the past two years been equally likely to have been plugged. This has given the CRPF confidence to venture out again into the jungles, resulting in the latest Sarkeguda killings.
While procedural, operational and logistical remedial measures can be taken, it is a wholly different problem in both magnitude and kind to be able to create soldiers able to best the challenge of the jungle. This is not impossible, as the World War II mastering of the jungle by the Indian army indicates. The difference is then it was under masterly leadership and with the urgency of a grave threat. The manner in which Operation Green Hunt has been unfolding as an operation that isn't! does not inspire confidence.
This begs the question as to why the CRPF is being sent out on such duty. Is the answer at the individual level of analysis? The home minister would like to break out of the opposition's ring of allegations. The CRPF head, Vijay Kumar, has a reputation to protect, one formed on his exploits in the jungle in pursuit of Veerappan. Or is it at the organisational level? The CRPF has to prove itself as the custodian for internal security. Its dismal showing in Kashmir in replacing the BSF has resulted in the army insisting on staying on under the AFSPA. Or is it at the political level with the state government hurrying to vacate the 'liberated zones' for corporate access?
The right lesson from the episode, that no state sponsored inquiry would have alighted at, is that only the army can do the job. If it is politically inexpedient to use it, then there is no alternative to a peace process. Some good can still come out of the sorry incident