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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

After left-liberals, Muslim are next

The ongoing fight for India’s educational spaces is easy to explain. Placing the left-liberals on the back-foot is essential for the RSS combine and the ruling party. For the RSS combine it is to wrest the intellectual space and for the ruling party to silence embarrassing questions and observations on its governance. For both, subduing this constituency is a necessary step in the shaping of the battlefield for the application of Hindutva to changing India yet to come.
For readers of this journal, who shall be subject of the ‘yet to come’ Hindutva measures, the pertinent aspect of prime time news today is the wearing down of their first line of defence. India’s Muslims are safe in India owing to liberal Hindus. Their standing up to the right wing extremists is a trench line behind which India’s Muslims breath easily. Reckoning as much, the Hindutva brigade is out to wrest them from their holdouts.
Obviously, India’s Muslims cannot be bystanders, for it is their own fortifications that are being whittled. They will surely be the next targets, once the conscience of the nation in the form of left-liberal opinion has been deterred into silence. This is not to say that Indian Muslims are already not facing the brunt. The various campaigns of beef ban, love jihad and ghar wapsi are testimony. The fact is that these and plenty of Hindutva to come yet will be further emboldened.
The left-liberals through their fight back on campuses across the country, return of awards and constant red flagging of Hindutva initiatives were punching above their weight. Not only was this hurting Mr. Modi’s aura, projected abroad, but also the electoral prospects of his party within. It is not as if Rahul Gandhi’s following of his political instincts by turning up at campuses likely scares the regime. However, with both the economy and polity being more demanding than a talent-challenged cabinet could deliver on, there was a need to stifle the constant sniping by left-liberals from the educational spaces and the media.
The well-worn principle of the intelligence game - impose on one to frighten the rest - is in play. Teesta Setalvad, Arundhati Roy and now Kanhaiya Kumar are examples. It is not for the first time Mr. Modi busies himself inaugurating the likes of Make in India and Rurban initiatives even as he maintains his telling silence. To believe that there are two scripts at play in face of such consistency would be naïve.
Clearly, making sense of the happenings is easier than thinking through what to do about them. The events in Patiala House courts bring home the predicament of the Muslim youth accused of terrorism elsewhere in provincial and lower courts where there is little reach of the national media and where media is present it is of the Hindutva persuasion. There are dozens of Vikram Singh Chouhan equivalents with their ties, as those of Chouhan, extending up the political food chain of the far right. There also are OP Sharma-like legislators, waiting to exult in impunity. India is now replicating Modi’s Gujarat.
Only awaited are national level Maya Kodnani look-alikes and these would not be long in coming once the UP election comes into view. The tactics are already bare. The attempted sullying of Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar with a terrorist and Pakistani connection makes this clear. The allegation of ABVP serving as agent provocateurs in their ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ chants shows how easily a case can be manufactured for a crackdown.
There is no cause for alarm that the left-liberals will go under easily. Currently, they are on a roll in a counter attack that is seeing their ranks swell from Delhi to Jadhavpur. If the levels of fight back sustain and translate into electoral roll back of the BJP, begun in Delhi and impelled further in Bihar, into the forthcoming elections in east India, it would decisively push back the enemy at the gates. However, till then, which means till year end, there is reason for being alert.
Both the academia and media are now divided. The push back from the right wing cannot be too long in coming. The newly appointed VCs in both Hyderabad University and JNU have right wing backing. To counter the Sardesai-Dutt-Varadarajan camp, there is the one-man-army, Arnab Goswami. The manner the Delhi police over-reacted indicates the levels to which officialdom is ready to stoop. The liberal intelligentsia is only a fraction in terms of numbers and shrillness of devotees of Messiah Modi. The latter want the Gujarat model, warts and all. The Left parties are in hibernation and the Congress searching for a leading light. This brief survey of relative strength suggests that even in case the left-liberals win this round, they would stand exhausted for the multiple fights on several fronts yet to come.
What is the state of play on the Indian Muslims front? They stand divided. The Barelvis are being propped up in state-funded gatherings to rile against those perceived as Wahabis. A Modi acolyte is Chancellor of a university. The two great universities, AMU and JMI, have been outflanked by the Center’s changed stance on their minority status. Muslim electorates are being enticed by communitarian parties such as the MIM, which for its relative gains appears willing to overlook absolute gains by the right wing party at the cost of regional and national parties. While the Vice President has on occasions voiced his concerns discreetly and courageously, there is little efficacious word from the Muslim political spectrum on the latest controversy.
Finally, there is the pull of the strategy argument that staying out will keep the right wing from maligning the liberal-left spectrum as Muslim ‘appeasers’. Staying out would keep the right wing from playing the religion card. This is a battle for the soul of Hinduism as a tolerant religion much as it is of India. Therefore, the Hindus need to expose and marginalize their home-grown extremists and wrest Hinduism back to safety.
In summation, it can be said that yet another episode in the expansion of right wing’s control of India is ongoing. This time round the stakes are rather high since silencing the left-liberals would be to mute a critique itself. This for India’s Muslims could prove an existential loss, since they serve as our shield. It stands to reason then that a view needs to be taken of our involvement, levels of this and proceeding expeditiously with its rolling out.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Gen Rao’s place in the history of Kashmir

Kashmir Times, 5 February 2016

The second of two back-to-back obituaries of military leaders lately, with that of ‘Jake’ Jacob being the first, has been of Gen Krishna Rao. Clearly, obituaries of both were effusive and with good reason. The military careers of both registered a high watermark in the liberation of Bangladesh and both went on to serve the country further in uniform and when out of it in a gubernatorial capacity.
Of the two, interest of readers of this publication is in Gen Krishna Rao’s significant presence in the recent history of Kashmir. What is well known is his tenure at the Raj Bhawan and its continuing ramifications. What is less well known is how the situation came to such as pass in Kashmir in first place.
But first, what is rather well known. Rao was there at the beginning. The political situation resulting from then Governor Jagmohan’s handling of the political impasse in the mid-eighties culminated in the late eighties. The election in the interim in 1987 yielded up a rich harvest of disaffected youth, promptly capitalized on by Pakistani intelligence agencies. A spiral in initially low level anti-India violence started, including the selective killings of Kashmiri Pandits. Governor Jagmohan’s tenure ending led to appointment of Rao in his place for his first tenure in J&K. Rao having served a five year stint in the North East was a figure with experience in handling restive states. Portents of the situation worsening had perhaps led to the choice of an army man for the job.
In the event, his was a turbulent first term. Pakistan’s low intensity war continued, unacknowledged by either side, with Tika Lal Taploo being killed that September, among the first of about 220 Kashmiri Pandits who have died since in the conflict. It witnessed the turning out on the streets of large numbers of people in the last December of the eighties during the Rubaiya Sayeed crisis. The final straw was the announcement by the government of the return of Jagmohan as Governor. Jagmohan was a tough administrator and having just finished a five year stint in Srinagar was thought to be the best bet. Perhaps Rao was seen as too close to Abdullah.
Not only did Rao resign, so did Farooq Abdullah miffed that his political rival Mufti Sayeed had foisted his nemesis Jagmohan on him once again. This resulted in a vacuum in Srinagar at a crucial time, in the run up to Republic Day. Even as Jagmohan hastened to Srinagar for what turned out his ‘frozen turbulence in Kashmir’, the Valley was astir. On 19 January, the police took action under uncertain authority, setting-off agitated crowds on Srinagar streets the next day and setting up the Gowkadal incident. The rumour was that Kashmir was building up to a boiling point culminating on 26 January in a unilateral declaration of independence. In the following weeks, many of the 24000 Kashmiri Pandit families that have left Kashmir exited.  
Jagmohan left in a hail of bullets that not only accounted for Mirwaiz Farooq but also for some 60 members of his cortege. At a time when some are returning state awards, he recently collected a Padma Vibhushan for his stewardship of Kashmir at the outbreak of the troubles. His successor ‘Gary’ Saxena is credited with holding firm, but only to pass on the baton to Rao. The dynamics between Rao, his home minister Chavan and Chavan’s deputy, Rajesh Pilot, and the relations (later even familial) of the latter with Kashmir’s most prominent politician Farooq Abdullah, led to Rao’s second chance at the helm.
In retrospect, it appears that Krishna Rao had a single mandate from Prime Minister Narasimha Rao: conduct elections. The aim was legitimate, a return to democracy rather than rule from Delhi. India’s newly liberalising economy needed investment and in the post Cold War climate, the sole superpower, the US, needed to be placated. India’s human rights record was under question and Narasimha Rao had to dispatch both Kashmir’s lead politician Abdullah and opposition leader Vajpayee to Geneva to retrieve lost ground. The economy could not do with another round of war with Pakistan. India’s military might had to be turned inwards.
Creating the conditions for elections and the timing of it was left to General Rao. He began well in his handling of the vacation of Hazratbal shrine. However, General Rao, a former army chief to boot, ended up relying solely on the army to deliver. For its part, the army had a full job on its hands. It had recovered weaponry enough to equip two divisions worth of troops. The insurgency was now more of proxy war with the indigenous face, the JKLF, being eclipsed by the ISI supported Hizb and the foreign fighter dominated Harkat. Apprehending a long term engagement in Kashmir, the army determined that it should not detract from its ability to hit back at Pakistan. It raised the Rashtriya Rifles and pumped these troops into Kashmir in the mid-nineties. It also turned to turn coat militants by creating the Ikhwan.
The Unified Headquarters set up by Rao himself was however not a link between him and the army. This came to a head in the Charar-e-Sharif episode which witnessed Rao quarrelling with his tools and scapegoating the UHQ head, his adviser Home and fellow general, MA Zaki. The event led to elections postponed to the following year, giving Seshan, the election czar, time to conduct a reckonable election. Elections helped India’s case in Kashmir, even if some of the glitter was lost in the tough line India was forced to adopt in face of Pakistan’s continuing challenge. Thus Gen Rao delivered on the aim set by his prime minister. Rao handed the baton back to Saxena, who had two eruptions - the Kargil War and the legislative assembly/parliament attack aftermath – to deal with.
When Kashmir’s history gets to be written dispassionately sometime in the future, it will be said that there were missed opportunities aplenty in Kashmir. The first was when Jagmohan applied the military template, which according to his adviser, Ved Marwah, was not quite necessary when policing action and investigation of firings resulting in uncalled for deaths  could have served the situation. The second was in wake of Hazratbal when Rao at the helm could have exploited the effect of the mature handling of the situation, that  included the soft touch of negotiated end to the crisis by Habibullah and even serving of ‘biryani’ to militants. Habibullah in his account soto voce suggests that there was more to his removal from the scene in an accident than meets the eye. That the militants got a hiding on surrendering suggests there were forces for the alternate way of handling militancy. It is clear that they won out under Rao’s tutelage.
That said, now for the less visible and indirect influence of Rao on Kashmir. Kashmir erupted at the turn of the decade when the Berlin Wall had just come down and freedom and liberation (‘azadi’) were in the air. India was relatively cowed after its economy coughed and its politics tumbled; its main supporter, the Soviet Union, went into a fright; and its adversary Pakistan became triumpalist over its success in laying out the ‘bear trap’ in Afghanistan. Whereas the semi-fictional scenario Operation Topac was exaggerated, the ISI was itself surprised by the windfall it received in early 1990. So much so that Benazir Bhutto’s fiery jumping into the act in early February after the birth of her child was almost inevitable.  Pakistan could not but grab the chance it had only partially created and which India had done more to hand over.
Pakistan needed this since it was long looking for an opportunity to tie down India’s military power. India’s military power had received a fillip in the eighties. The military upgrade that in the event made India’s economy dive, was a brainchild of the Rao-Sundarji combine. It is here that Rao’s indirect role kicks in. After India’s military victory in 1971 that made it a regional power, India in the mid-seventies set up a study group under Rao to chart out its military’s turn towards mechanization. This was firmed in under Rao when as Chief he conducted the first memorable large scale exercise, Ex Digvijay. Pakistan, worrying that this time its mainland would be shred by Indian pincers, sought to under-cut India’s power by first fostering insurgency in its launch pads in Punjab and then extended it into J&K, when India offered the border state as a fertile ground a platter through the rigging of elections in 1987 under Abdullah’s and Jagmohan’s watch. In effect, Rao’s success carried forward by Sundarji resulted in the insurgency in Kashmir that then required Rao’s direct attention.
There was one other manner in which Rao tangentially influenced Kashmir. As Chief he was said  to have been close to the Congress. When his time came to hang up his uniform, he pitched for Gen Vaidya to succeed him over the prior claim on seniority of Gen Sinha. Gen Vaidya was winner of two gallantry awards. Gen Sinha on his part left the service, only to follow Gen Rao, if not as Chief, then two decades on as Governor J&K, appointed by the earlier NDA government. While Rao tilted to the Congress, Sinha tilted to the opposition. While both can be credited with setting the stage for political generals of today, Sinha’s has been a baleful cultural nationalist, if not communal, legacy in Kashmir. He completely reversed the healing touch of early this century, so much so that today Kashmiri youth express interest in the ISIS even while that organization has only rhetorical interest in Kashmir.
Rao, as with the other governors in the nineties, bore a great brunt. He had the wide shoulders necessary. It must be said that if Pakistan had its way then things would have been much worse.