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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