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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.