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Our military history is politicised to suit Generals

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The Prime Minister mixing up military history is between him and his aides. If only they had checked Wikipedia they would have known that (then) Gen. K.M. Cariappa (not Thimayya) became the first Indian Army chief on 15 January 1949 and that is the reason it is celebrated as Army Day. Cariappa was just 50 (born 1899) when he took over. They made much younger chiefs then.

 

That history can get you in a twist partly because of rapid developments that were overlapping and intertwined. For clarity: both Indian and Pakistani armies were led by British commanders through the 1947-48 campaign. They often exchanged notes with each other as the fighting went on.

 

 

A picture of Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of ThePrintAs if that wasn’t complicated enough, the operations on both sides were handed over to “native” commanders dealing directly with the political leadership. India picked Cariappa to lead the Kashmir campaign. Then a Lt Gen., he was made to head the Delhi and East Punjab command. He promptly renamed it the Western Command.

 

Confusion arises because Cariappa, in turn, hand-picked a fellow Coorgi, Maj. Gen. K.S. Thimayya; coincidentally, the initial “K” in both their names stands for Kodandera, their common clan. Cariappa sent Thimayya to command the Kashmir (later 19th) division which did the crucial fighting in the early months. Coorgis (or Kodavas) are a small and super-successful ethnic group. In the 1950s, these names were both unfamiliar and similar-sounding. Both worked together, earned well-deserved heroism in the Kashmir campaign, and became chiefs.

 

Thimayya, unlike Cariappa (whose defence minister was the genial Sardar Baldev Singh, whose name preceded Santa-Banta for the good-hearted joke industry) had run-ins with his defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon. Menon, a deep-crimson Communist, detested the starched, anglicised Army brass. Thimayya had no patience for his minister’s constant interference. The late Inder Malhotra, among the finest chroniclers of those years, recounted the delightful story of how Thimayya once wanted to take leave to avoid another inevitable face-off with Menon and his aide asked him what should he mention as the reason. “Just say I have a touch of Menongitis,” Thimayya said. Thimayya resigned in angry protest in 1959, only to be persuaded by Nehru to withdraw and complete his term in 1961.

 

All this, and the quaint Coorgi coincidence, can confuse ordinary folk. But how can it also get the Prime Minister and his office mixed up? We might have a plausible hypothesis.

 

Our history of 25 years after independence is marked with wars, large ones with Pakistan (1947-48, ’65 and ’71) and China (1962), and small ones in Hyderabad (1948), Goa (1961) and China again in Sikkim’s Nathula, 1967. Barring 1971, none of the major ones was a clear Indian victory. 1962 was a clear defeat, ’65 was a tired stalemate and ’47-’48 is unfinished business. A belief-set has been consistently built through decades by the political class that the Army could have done much better if it wasn’t let down by political leaders of the day.

 

To say that the politicians swallowed this poison to cover for the armed forces is an oversimplification but only because they had no choice. These were the postcolonial world’s perilous decades. Democratic institutions were still forming and the armies were taking over, notably next door. The political class, led by Nehru, had many anxieties when civil-military equations were still evolving. The challenge was establishing civilian/political pre-eminence. At the same time, a civil-military tension was to be avoided. Small fact: Gen. (later Field Marshal) Ayub Khan, who grabbed power in Pakistan in 1958, had served as a Colonel under Cariappa in his brigade in the Frontier.

 

A strategic doctrine of politico-military story-telling, therefore, was built over these years: That the armed forces and their commanders could do no wrong. All blame for setbacks, or a lack of success, was to be taken by politicians. Of course, success would be shared, as Indira Gandhi did after 1971. This hasn’t changed since. Kargil, 1999, was more a failure of military leadership than of the Vajpayee government. How did the Pakistanis manage to come in so deep, dig in across such a large frontier, undetected? Once again, a convenient (but necessary) mythology was created. The blame was parked with civilian intelligence, very few in the Army leadership were called to account, and all we now remember are stories of heroism and victory. Because the doctrine of quarantining the armed forces from any criticism was, and is, vital. Armed forces have institutional continuity, so blaming individual leaders would bring the entire institution into disrepute. Politicians will come and go, usually replaced and always criticised by rivals.

 

Probably the most authentic account of these fateful decades is in a recent publication: ‘Army and nation: The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence’ by Yale professor Steven Wilkinson. He describes these tensions in a manner most Indians—including, honestly, this writer—would be afraid to. He writes, for example, of the anxiety the politicians had over the Army’s domination by the Punjabis, and the steps they took to widen its base: finally leading to Babu Jagjivan Ram’s landmark decision to bring state population-based recruitment quotas. Not all states fill up their shares and these devolve to others. But the fake colonial “martial races” theory is being systematically rolled back. By the way, the state to take the largest share beyond its own quota isn’t one the British, or even the ethos we inherited, considered particularly martial. It’s Kerala.

 

Accounts by Wilkinson and other chroniclers all tell us that one reason India was able to rebuild its military after Krishna Menon’s eccentric depredations and the disaster of 1962, was also two sagacious defence ministers during the warring 1962-71 decade, Y.B. Chavan and Jagjivan Ram. You never heard them blame any generals. Generals Thapar and B.M. Kaul took the rap for 1962 but mostly it was blamed on a politician, Krishna Menon. It was Chavan who took the call to classify the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report and keep it from Parliament.

 

Not because it would have exposed any secrets to the Chinese, but because it was critical of the Army’s performance and leadership and ran contrary to the Haqeeqat-ised victimhood version (as immortalised by Chetan Anand’s film by that name), laced with Lata Mangeshkar’s Aye mere watan ke logon…. Fifty-six years later, it is still classified.

 

Through the decades, a spiced up, hyper-nationalist version of this history was built: that the generals were always doing the right thing but the politicians came in the way. It goes like: if only Cariappa/Thimayya/Chaudhari/Manekshaw were given a free hand, there’d be no PoK, the Chinese would’ve been taught a lesson and Tibet liberated, 1965 would have slain the Pak demon, and in ’71, just another fortnight’s fighting after Bangladesh and West Pakistan would’ve been occupied. No authoritative military account from any side suggests anything remotely like any of these. But a “my Army strongest” sentiment was essential in a new democracy while it firmly kept the soldiers out of the power structure.

 

In the RSS lore, it was embellished further. It helped that most of these “pusillanimous” leaders were of their detested Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. In the RSS versions it became something like: Cariappa/Thimayya/Chaudhari pleaded with the PM of the day, give me a little more time please. But the Gandhi-Nehrus got cold feet, or worse, were complicit with foreign powers. The only trouble here is Shastri in 1965, who the RSS deifies. But, in the din of rhetoric, you gloss over it. Ask anybody with an RSS exposure and you will hear the same argument. In that process, chronologies, names, even periods do get mixed up, but never mind as the point—strong Army denied by effete, cowardly Congress—is made. This is where PM Modi is coming from. And also why he and his aides got it so mixed up.

(theprint.in)


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Opinion

Indian elections, South Asian concerns

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Kanak Mani Dixit

The staggering scale of the election that is under way in India with just under a billion voters is hard for the mind to grapple with, even in this densely populated neighbourhood that includes Bangladesh and Pakistan. The level of worry is also at a pitch, for India should be the bulwark against weakening democracy in a world of Bolsonaro (Brazil), Duterte (the Philippines), Erdogan (Turkey), Putin (Russia) and Trump (the U.S.) not to mention the People’s Republic of China.

Modern India, created by M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and their cohort, should be raising the standard for social justice and grass-roots democracy, and against destructive right-wing populism. This has not quite been Prime Minister NarendraModi’s record, and hence the concern that another five years would redefine the very idea of India.

 

Already, the term ‘world’s largest democracy’ is achieving banality as India gains majoritarian momentum. Centralised control of society would never be possible in such a vast and variegated society of sub-nationalities, we were told, but look at what is happening.

The high principle and probity of India’s political class, bureaucracy, academia and civil society are now exceptions rather than the rule. India’s Ambassadors are no longer the self-confident professionals we knew for decades, they act today like timid note-takers. Higher education is directed by those who insist that the achievements of Vedic era science included flying machines and organ transplants. Meanwhile, the adventurism that marked economic management, including immiseration through demonetisation, has been ‘managed’ through loyal social and corporate media.

Intellectual toadyism and crony capitalism have overtaken New Delhi on a subcontinental scale, but sooner than later this drift towards regimented society and whispered dissent must be reversed. Too much is at stake for too many citizens — India must revert to the true, messy and contested democracy we have known and appreciated.

Parliamentary democracy is the governance procedure adopted by each and every country of South Asia, and the Indian practice has always been held up as the example.

The precedents set by India’s courts are studied elsewhere, the professionalism of the civil service is regarded as the benchmark, and everyone else seeks the aspirational welfare state set in motion in India in the middle of the 20th century. This is why we watch worried as Indian democracy weakens in step with its economy, as inter-community relationships within India descend to one-sided animus, and as New Delhi’s global clout decreases in inverse proportion to Beijing’s.

To cover weaknesses in governance and promises undelivered, Mr.Modi as the solo electoral face of the BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) has whipped up a tornado of militarised nationalism that projects Pakistan as the exclusive enemy. No one dares remind the Indian voters that Pakistan is the far weaker power; its people are battling fanatical demons more than are Indian citizens; Pakistan is a large potential market for India’s goods and services; and the future of Kashmir must be based on Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

Meanwhile, Lahore intellectuals watch with apprehension as India copies the excesses of Pakistan’s theocratic state. Dhaka observers are numbed into silence with New Delhi’s vigorous backing of Prime Minister Sheikh HasinaWajed as she constructs an intolerant one-party regime. Colombo rides a geopolitical see-saw as New Delhi shadow-boxes Beijing. And Kathmandu wonders whether New Delhi has it in itself to concede that the amplified Chinese involvement in Nepal is the result of the Great Blockade of 2015-16.

India has been reduced to a giant nervously finger-counting friends made or lost to China. The media triumphalism that greets even modest shifts in India’s favour — be it in Male or Thimphu — marks unnecessarily low self-esteem. New Delhi seems preoccupied with ‘managing’ South Asian countries when it should be commanding the global platforms on climate alteration, protection of pluralism and correcting imbalances in global wealth.

Few note the incongruity of a New Delhi loudly daring Islamabad while acting coy on Beijing, which one would have thought was the real adversary or competitor. Meanwhile India’s celebrated soft power wilts even as the Chinese work to wipe out their English deficit, and Beijing places Confucius Institutes in far corners. Chinese goods flood the Indian market, Chinese research and development gallops ahead of India’s, and Beijing convincingly moves to tackle environmental degradation.

India seems drowsy and lethargic in contrast. South Asia as a whole — much of it the historical ‘India’ — roots for Indian democracy even while welcoming Chinese investment, infrastructure loans and tourists. Also because it has the largest population in the Subcontinent, India is expected to lead South Asia on myriad issues including the death-dealing Indo-Gangetic smog, fertilizer and pesticide use, cross-border vectors, arsenic poisoning, regional commerce and economic rationalisation, social inclusion and the Human Development Index and so on. But leadership requires humility, to study, for example, how adjacent societies have successfully tackled great challenges — look at Bangladesh surging towards middle income country status.

Nepal has long been regarded by exasperated New Delhi policy-makers as the South Asian basket case sending out migrant labour to India. This much is true, but it also emerges that the Nepal economy is the seventh largest sender of remittance to India after the UAE, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the U.K., Bangladesh and Canada. Unlike these others, Nepal’s remittances go to India’s poorest parts, in Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

We switch on India’s news channels and find an abysmal common denominator in terms of civility and rationality. The national intelligentsia seems intimidated, unable to challenge the rigid, dangerously populist narrative of the BJP/RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS). We watch as the National Register of Citizens propels statelessness, as the refoulement of Rohingyarefugees points to a reckless disregard for fundamental humanitarian principles, and as majoritarianism weakens the pillar of representative democracy that is the protection of minorities.

India is indeed large and important, but the chest size of a country does not translate into equity, social justice or international standing. Because nearly 20% of humanity lives within its boundaries, when India falters, the pit of despair and the potential for violence open up wide and deep.

The South Asia that New Delhi’s policy and opinion-makers should consider is not the centralised Jambudvipa mega-state of the RSS imagination. Instead, the ideal South Asian regionalism is all about limiting the power of the national capitals, devolving power to federal units and strengthening local democracy.

Modi’s own idea of regionalism is one where he calls the shots. The start of his current term was marked by an attempt to dictate to the neighbours, after which the pendulum swung to the other extreme. The freeze put by India on the inter-governmental South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is only a cynical means to keep Pakistan out of the club.

The sabotaging of SAARC can hardly be considered a victory, for that feather-light geopolitical stratagem fails to consider that regionalism is a potent means to bring economic growth and social justice to India’s own poverty-stricken ‘peripheral regions’ from Assam to Purvanchal to Rajasthan. For its own security and prosperity as well as that of the rest of us, India must re-connect with South Asia.

Sub continental regionalism is also important to achieve New Delhi’s ambitions on the world stage, including that coveted seat at the UN Security Council. India’s global comeback will start the day New Delhi think tanks begin questioning South and North Block rather than serving as purveyors of spin. On South Asian matters, they should pull out a copy of the Gujral Doctrine from the archives, to be dusted and re-examined.

We seek an India that is prosperous and advancing at double digit growth, not only because what this would mean for its 1.35 billion citizens, but to the other 500 million South Asians. For its own selfish interests, the rest of South Asia wants India to succeed in the world.

(Kanak Mani Dixit, a writer and journalist based in Kathmandu, is the founding editor of the Colombo-based magazine, ‘HimalSouthasian’. Source: The Hindu)

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Witnessing the political tamasha in Kashmir

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Meer Abass

At the onset of election fever, political parties belonging to exploiting ruling class use all kinds of tricks to lure voters on their side and grab power. Politicians resort to anything under the sky to woo voters and counter their rival parties. It’s obvious that in this cut-throat scheme of promises, hardly any political party has a programme or policy that genuinely aims well-being of the people of the state.

Every party claims that their leader is the ‘lion’ of the political jungle as tamashaof the hectic assembly poll campaign in Jammu and Kashmir reaches its culmination.
Getting elected should be very easy. If for five years you work for your voters without fear or favour then getting elected should not cost a dime. So why getting elected costs so much and takes so much effort?

 

The answer lies in the party system and the political illiteracy that our state suffers from.

Our political illiteracy levels are near 95% or more. Even the educated among us are politically illiterate. They stopped getting any education after they clear the class 10 during which they had Civics as a subject (of course this does not include people who did their BA and MA in Political Science).

Our political party system ensures that no representative of the people is able to do anything for the people that elect him/her. He has to follow the diktat of the party. And the party is driven by lobbies that want to get laws and rules made that benefit them. Thus even if there is a lawmaker who wants to work for his constituents, he can’t. Thus at the end of the tenure, if his party has something to show (which they usually don’t have), he can expect to get elected again otherwise he has to depend on the bluff of the party and its ability to convince the people that it has done well for them. Or fake them with the bluster of a fake leader.

And if the representative has been doing good work then his constituents will not even want to see him or hear him during election time. They would have been in touch with him all through the five years and would know what he/she has done and delivered. Thus the cost of getting elected would be very negligible.

Now that is the kind of politics that we should all aspire and work for.

And for a politician that is connected to the people, his/her formal education would not matter as much as his/her understanding of the pain points of his voters and his/her ability to solve their problems.

Therefore, there are two things you can do, one is to get a political education and second is to choose a representative that does work for you and not blindly toe the party line. Best would be to have a representative that represents you and not a political party.

“Walayvasie, aslisherhayy, aaaway (come, my friend. The original lion has come),” sing Kashmiri women folk in traditional ‘rauf’ dance at political rallies.

“Naklishera vatu daira, aslisheraaagaya (it’s time for fake lions to pack bags as the original lion has arrived at the scene,” is a common slogan witnessed in the campaigns right now in the Kashmir valley.

While every party has its own share of slogans but it is the “Sher” which is the common thread in their campaigns in the politically charged atmosphere in the Valley. Kashmir wildlife does not include lions.

The name of ‘Sher-e-Kashmir’ has been prefixed with a prestigious medical institute in the Valley, an agriculture university, gallantry medals for police, employment scheme and the only cricket ground in the Valley.

PDP also invoked ‘sher’ besides its slogans like “SabzukAlam chum aathskyath, aasiydeetaarParvardighar (The green flag is in my hand and God will help me crossing all hurdles)” besides the ‘Sher’ slogan. The flag of PDP party is green.

National Conference has some more to offer their voters like “aapkimushkilkabaaetbarhul, sirfhalhalhal (the only way for a honourable solution to your problems is plough). Plough is the symbol of National Conference.

There are multiple dimensions to how Kashmiris interpret elections. Some call it political maturity and see it as a befitting strategy to avoid having a party in power that has no sensibilities about Kashmir. Those who vote believe that if Kashmiris don’t vote, then the elected representatives will go down the same way as the previous ones have. Many see it as political leverage in negotiating for issues such as an immediate and urgent repeal of draconian laws in force in Kashmir and the release of youth who have been booked under these laws. Some consider it important for a long-term political solution to the conflict, which they think is only possible through consistent dialogue and negotiation with New Delhi, Islamabad and Kashmir.

BJP, besides its “abkibaarModisarkar” slogans, has banners hanging at various traffic cross sections “aaobadle Jammu Kashmir kehaalat, aaochaleModikesaath (let’s change Jammu and Kashmir’s destiny, let’s walk with Modi).”

It is said that in Kashmir nothing is straight except poplar trees, and it reflects the general persona of the biotic of Kashmir. Do we actually qualify to be humans, well what’s happening on the ground and has happened in the past, are contesting this prerogative. So the question arises, who is a common Kashmiri? And what are the aspirations, responsibilities and expectations out of common Kashmiri?

(Author is an Assistant Professor, Department of English, Govt Degree College Handwara. Feedback at meerabas32@gmail.com)

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Opinion

Running on fear in 2019

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Barkha Dutt

NarendraModi, India’s powerful prime minister, is seeking a second term. But in 2019, he is sounding less like the man who campaigned in 2014 and much more like his previous avatar — the abrasive, vitriolic and inflammatory chief minister of Gujarat.

His first national election five years ago was built on aspiration. Then he used to proclaim that the country’s constitution was his only holy book; he promised “achhe din” (good days) and “vikas” (development).

 

This campaign, by contrast, has been built on fear and on the othering of his political opposition as anti-national, anti-Hindu and, in antithesis to Modi’s own projected machismo, wimpish.

There is little or no conversation about the performance of his government, the economy or jobs. A leaked report from the National Statistical Commission (which the government contested) placed unemployment numbers at a four-decade high; a certain amount of deflection and changing the subject is political compulsion.

But the Modi-led BharatiyaJanata Party campaign has descended from spin to brazen coarseness, fear-mongering and Islamophobia.

In the 2019 production, Modi has cast himself as the “chowkidar,” or watchman — the guardian at the gate who will defend the country against predators and terrorists. The decision to order an airstrike inside Pakistan as retaliation for the terrorist attack in Pulwama, Kashmir, that killed 40 paramilitary police officers has become a major element in his narrative.

Modi even delivered a speech with photographs of the men who were killed in the Kashmir strike forming the stage backdrop; he also asked young voters to dedicate their ballot to the military personnel who led the assault inside Pakistan. Yogi Adityanath, the saffron-robed monk chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous and politically important state, added insult to injury by describing the military as Modi’s “sena” — or Modi’s army, comments for which he has been censured by the Election Commission.

The BJP has defended this by arguing that because the prime minister took a great risk by sanctioning the Pakistan strike — in contrast to the Congress, which took no military action even after the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008 — the party has every right to politically own the decision. But given the flamboyant nationalism the party claims as its defining characteristic, this debasement of India’s armed forces is, frankly, impossible to justify.

The young daughter of a soldier killed in the Pulwama terrorist attack called out the bluff. “My father did not die for NarendraModi or Rahul Gandhi. He died for India,” ApoorvaRawat, 20, told me. “Can’t you run a campaign without using our families to win votes?”

Using soldiers as political fodder is bad enough. But even worse is the Modi campaign’s message to India’s 172 million Muslims. In the past few years, Muslim cattle traders have been repeatedly targeted by right-wing mobs on fabricated charges of trading in beef. During this campaign, the men charged with the 2015 lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq, a Muslim ironsmith in Dadri, were given front-row seats at a BJP election rally.

A prominent government minister has warned Muslims to vote for her or face the consequences. And in one of the worst election speeches of the season, the prime minister taunted Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress party, for running away from Hindu voters to a constituency in the south where “the majority is a minority.” His comments were about Gandhi’s decision to fight from two seats, Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala in addition to his long-standing parliamentary seat in the north. Attacking the Congress is fair but implicit in this particular attack was the suggestion that a parliamentary seat dominated by Muslims is something to be embarrassed of.

Every single day, the marginalization and humiliation of India’s Muslim citizens are being reinforced.

The final blow came from the BJP president, Amit Shah, Modi’s second in command and said to be the only person the prime minister trusts. Shah has vowed to create a national citizens’ registry that will “remove every single infiltrator from the country” unless they happen to be Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist. The official sanction of crude religious majoritarianism did not even bother to disguise its anti-Muslim bigotry. It was tweeted out by the party handle with the hashtag #NaMoForNewIndia — a model of “New India” eroding the very basis of old India: constitutionally protected pluralism.

So far, despite the virulence of the campaign he is steering, Modi seems to be comfortably ahead. There is no visible backlash to even his most divisive words. His persona as a spartan, non-corrupt bachelor, who is “not in politics for himself” — this I’ve heard repeatedly from voters — and his reputation as a decisive leader seem to offset the flaws voters now concede he has.

Admittedly, there is no euphoria of the kind that India witnessed in 2014. But nor is there any widespread anger. And when it comes down to it, voters often add “who else is there” to their criticism of Modi’s first term. It’s like the post-romance phase of a personal relationship — you’re no longer smitten, the sheen has worn off, but until a better option comes along, in your mind he or she is as good as it gets, with all of the flaws. You tell yourself that the relationship is better than being single.

For this, India’s opposition must take the blame. Crude and sexist language by leaders from within their own ranks — such as Azam Khan, the regional leader who commented on the underpants of his female adversary — have somewhat blunted the moral force of their attack on the BJP.

The opposition also remains fragmented and divided. It has been too slow to produce a counter-narrative, and this has only bolstered Modi’s chances. It suits Modi to make himself the central issue of this election and ask, Modi vs. who?

The answer to that would be Modi vs. math.

In the absence of any other national persona to take on the tough-as-nails, ruthless and charismatic Modi, the opposition’s best bet is to bury its differences and work on a series of local alliances. Modi wants a presidential-style election. The opposition can only counter that with regional coalitions of varied caste groups and communities.

For the moment, in one of India’s ugliest election campaigns, the advantage is with Modi.

Chances are that he will be prime minister again. But there has been absolutely nothing prime ministerial about his campaign.

(washingtonpost.com)

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