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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Modi And The Military: Not Quite An Innocent Beginning
By Firdaus Ahmed
21 September, 2013
Mr. Modi’s political sense was on display at the very first rally on his nomination as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Addressing ex-servicemen at Rewari he laid out his security agenda that would no doubt have been music to the ears of the gathering. Declaring an intent to make Pakistan behave, China back off, the civilian defence sector deliver and have the coffers cough up ‘one rank one pension’, he suggested that since all this would require a ‘strong’ leader, he was the best man for the job. Missed in the deconstruction of his speech has been the more significant aspect: that of politicisation of the military.
Flanked by General VK Singh of the DoB (‘date of birth’) fame, a score of retired generals and an Olympic silver medallist to boot, Modi was not merely playing to the gallery. He was instead attempting to gain the military’s endorsement on two counts. The more obvious one is that it would be useful to have the military alongside as he goes about resetting India in the Hindu nationalist image. With their longed for goodies, both in terms of military toys and seventh pay commission largesse, close at hand, the military can be expected to go about their business with redoubled intensity since the security environment would simultaneously be vitiated by worried neighbours reacting to Hindu India flexing its muscles.
But more important and urgent for Modi is that politicisation timely may prove useful if his past was to catch up with him in the Gujarat related cases that are yet unspooling in various courts. If judicial push comes to policing shove, he could ‘Cry foul!’, citing Congress chicanery, and, having the military’s weight behind him, deter any deflection from 7 Race Course Road.
Given the apolitical image of the army, it does appear counter intuitive that a dais heavy with the brass as witnessed at Rewari could amount to this. However, that conservative parties universally carry the military’s vote is a verity in military sociology. The BJP therefore has the advantage and doubly so, on account of the uninspiring defence minister the Congress, fearing another Bofors, has foisted on the army over two terms. As a senior minister, his political engagements meant the hijack of the policy agenda by the bureaucrats. A resentful military can be expected to take its civil war with bureaucrats in South Block into the political arena.
The military, no monolith, is internally differentiated. It has subcultures, some of which are at variance with its public image that can make a bid for dominance. While the majority in the military is apolitical, secular and professional, it could in this circumstance end up as the silent majority. It would be the politically alive element that would set the military’s position on what promises to be a momentous run up to elections over the coming year. Evidence of its existence and of precedence is in the manner this segment had dominated the military’s counter insurgency campaign, leaving the Valley littered with unmarked graves.
This politicised segment could firstly perform the function of keeping the military inert to the goings on in politics brought on by the right wing’s philosophy of ends justifying the means. The cover of being apolitical will sit easy in such a circumstance as the right wing attempts steal the election with its communalisation of the political and discursive space. Muzaffarnagar is a mere trailer.
Secondly, it could even prompt an intervention in case Modi falters at the last hurdle, even as the majority looks on nonplussed. There is precedence in which General VK Singh is alleged to have moved mechanised formations in the dead of the night ostensibly to check if they can react to contingencies in the midst of Delhi’s winter fog, but, to some, to influence any government decision to sack him for taking the government to court over his date of birth controversy. Such innocuous movements can be resorted to by formations with commanders subscribing to the reactionary political subculture as messaging to the government against any moves to permit the judicial noose from tightening around Modi’s neck.
The fact that the government vets the military’s chain of succession very carefully was very obvious from the accusations and counter accusations during VK Singh’s ‘date of birth’ episode. This suggests that apprehension of the military going political is not as far-fetched as the popular image of the military suggests. Predisposed to conservatism and desiring a turn to realist foreign and security policies, this segment could delude itself into believing it is acting in national interest. Absolving itself thus, it could seek to install Modi to power irrespective of the election verdict and perhaps because of the returning to power of a dynastic order revolting to the segment’s sense of self-worth.
The military’s views are set by its officer cadre that increasingly identifies with the middle class. The reactionary discourse of late in the middle class is well known and finds resonance in officers’ messes. Ex-servicemen serving as a right wing catchment and their increasing beltway into the consciousness of the military through cyber space, defence periodicals and presence in cantonments, strengthens the politicised subculture.
The BJP had attracted several generals, including respected ones such as Jacob and Sinha, in its earlier foray. The difference then was that Vajpayee was at its helm. This time round not only are the generals on the BJP bandwagon of dubious standing, but the BJP is led by a figure no stranger to controversy. Therefore, the relationship is no longer an innocent one but is one pregnant with forebodings not only till the elections but also beyond them.
Firdaus Ahmed is a freelance writer on security affairs. His blog is Think South Asia:
This article was filed before news reports emerged that "Ex-Indian Army chief VK Singh accused of masterminding coup to topple J&K state govt"

Monday, September 16, 2013

Vanzara gets it right: The meaning for J&K
By Firdaus Ahmed
Vanzara has blown the lid on the fallacious argument usually put out to explain away encounter cases. The killers are taken to be afflicted with a Rambo mentality and seekers of medals, out of turn promotions and bounty. The problem gets reduced to the individuallevel at the expense of the systemic. This enables exaction of a price, when and if ever the push of accountability comes to the shove of action, by incarceration of the culpable individuals to the legal system, quite like Vanzara. Attention gets deflected from the culpability at higher levels and the subversion of law and institutions that makes encounters possible. The lesson for J&K is that it needs redefining normalcy away from violence indicators but in the retrieving of ground lost to departures from the straight and narrow. But, the critical Vanzara message, liable to be missed, is that it is not enough to blame the tools alone.

Take the recent killings by BSF troopers at Shopian, reminiscent of those at Gool earlier this year. The killings can only partially be attributed to a trigger-happy outfit or a scared set of isolated paramilitary men holding out against a mob. An investigation will only establish individual culpability, screening out the larger picture. The people died because they were part of an agitated crowd. The crowd gathered because the presence of the picket enabled them to vent their anger at an egregious provocation of having a misconceived concert for the elite in Srinagar to advertise the return of 'normalcy'. The problem therefore was not entirely in triggers being pressed in hate or panic, but more in the non-removal of operating bases in the midst of people despite removal being the best indicator of normalcy.

To this inability to recognise what needs doing in returning normalcy must be attributed the deaths of protesting civilians. The onus is not at the door of soldiers in camouflage reacting in situations they have little control over, but to those who have allowed the environment of insecurity to persist. Vanzara has got it right: those in control owe a greater responsibility and need being arraigned, at a maximum in the court of law under the doctrine of responsibility of the chain of command, and at a minimum in the court of public opinion.

By no means does this exonerate the troopers who have belittled themselves, for it is in crunch situations and not on the parade ground where discipline and self control are to count. If fire discipline is absent then they are undeserving of their uniform. That said, their officers cannot be exonerated. They are largely happy with feudal services their men furnish in order that a happy relationship develops in which they in return do not hold men responsible for occupational standards. This is a particular malady in the central police forces, which to begin with are of questionable quality and secondly are officered at the upper echelons with the IPS, who have acquired the trappings of power too early in life and service.

However, if the deaths are to have a meaning for India outside of Kashmir, then the Neros in Srinagar and Delhi need questioning alongside. The chief minister has mastered the fine art of passing the buck on to Delhi. It is apparent that concentrating as he is on delivery of routine governance, rocking the boat by tendering his resignation does not figure in his sight. Awaiting a worse day implies that the chief minister expects worse, a prospect none too appetising.

Srinagar also has Delhi's representative, a Governor into his second tenure. Clearly, he too has exhausted his breath on Delhi. He was the right man to do spring cleaning after the previous NDA appointee leaving his ideological debris behind. Had Delhi had not lost its nerve after 26/11 on the road to patching up with Islamabad, he could have well have delivered Kashmir to normalcy as part of the internal dimension of repair. Now it is apparent that his utility is in his success in keeping the lid on the Valley, a feat he can be credited with over the past four years.

As for Delhi, the Kashmiri saying 'Delhi is distant' captures it all. How so ever much it might remonstrate that Kashmir is an internal issue of India, it is unable to unravel the internal from the external. Vajpayee had created the conditions for doing so that UPA I had taken further, only to be derailed as mentioned at Mumbai 26/11: so much for the relative power of Delhi and the Jihad Inc., across. Internally, UPA II has been a lost tenure, with the output of the last committee of interlocutors being trashed. With sights set further than Srinagar on Kabul and a national elections looming, movement on Kashmir awaits the next incumbent of 7 Race Course Road.

That Kashmir does not count is thus self-evident. Consequently, the message for people is that agitating for an end to insecurity is the only way they can be heard. Recognising that it has left people with no other recourse, Delhi has left armed minders in place, empowered with AFSPA and similar laws covering the paramilitary and the police. Responsibility for what then transpires on the barbed wire and concertina is clearly not only of those facing each other on the frontline, but those who have contrived thus to put them in such a position. So if there is an accounting, as Vanzara seeks to remind us if only to save his own skin, he has got it right in saying that powers higher than his level, the supervisory one, should also be in the dock, if not in cells; for inaction, if not for mala-fide action.

The upshot of the analysis is that there is more to come. Delhi has indicated that Islamabad has upped the infiltration this year. This is no doubt to set the stage for next year. While earlier in the nineties the period of mass action preceded that of insurgency, which in turn was displaced by proxy war, this time round the worst case could be simultaneity of the three. The last time round the downing of the Berlin Wall set the context for Kashmir. This time there is the untidy aftermath of Arab Spring supplying the spark for the tinder. Pakistan's excuse will be that it gave peace a chance and India squandered the opportunity by its inability and unwillingness to make a distinction between the state and its bearded proxies. The time for political action having past, regrettably violence appears the lone recourse for all sides. Perversely, the bright side is that thereafter it would be very difficult to play Nero.

(The author is a blogger at Think South Asia:
17 Sep 13