The minority security problematic
As India heads to elections, the security dynamic of the world’s largest minority looms as one of the principle electoral considerations. While it is understandably so for the minority in question – India’s multiple Muslim communities spread across its subcontinent-sized expanse – it also necessarily impacts the larger questions in India’s national security relating to internal security and the internal-external linkages, in particular, India’s Pakistan policy.
The first salvo has already been fired by the Central government, using the other ‘caged parrot’ the National Investigation Agency (NIA) (the original, as per the august Supreme Court, being the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)). The NIA trotted up yet another “success” in unveiling yet another Islamic State (IS)-inspired cell in India’s Hindi heartland. The ever reliable Praveen Swami – whose late low profile had led one to believe he was on sabbatical – was brought out to inform that this is the 64th cell dismantled by the NIA in the Modi tenure.
Never mind that the supposed rocket launcher presented as evidence was found to be a hydraulic jack used to lift tractor trolleys. It did not prevent an intrepid researcher in a think tank at the national capital to show up on twitter the utility of the pipe in rocket-making by drawing attention to the improvisations that occur in the conflict in Syria, that the young researcher specializes in. The recovered sutli bomb and matchsticks to light it were intended to take out the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters in New Delhi (‘No comments’ was NIA comment on a query), among other targets such as easy-to-guess-who among VIPs. At least twice earlier, Narendra Modi has been in crosshairs, or so we have been told: once earlier by a terrorist squad that included a now-dead 19 year old girl and, lately, by urban naxals. Apparently, their plans were in the pipeline since 2009. It begs the question why they were waiting out the Modi tenure.
Needless to add, numerous precedents suggest that the high profile arrests will be followed a few years down the line by their quiet release, remarked only in liberal media and by avid Muslim lawyers keeping up the tradition of martyr Shahid Azmi, who lent his skills to defending Muslim convicts jailed at best for being Muslim and needed as sacrifice for the political ascendance of cultural nationalism and its champions. That the finest actor of his generation — Rajkumar Rao — portrayed his struggle in the award winning Shahid testifies to the epic dimensions of the struggle (jihad if you will).
It is no wonder the NIA director and prime minister name-sake, YC Modi, is front-runner for the upcoming vacancy in the CBI; the incumbent, Alok Verma, having been put in cold storage a couple of months prior when he took on the original front-runner, his deputy and prime minister acolyte, Rakesh Asthana, for corruption. While Asthana had inquired into the burnt coaches of the Sabarmati Express pronouncing their burning along with their human occupants, as a product of the conspiracy at Godhra, YC Modi, was part of the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team that pronounced the then chief minister had having no negative role in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.
This lengthy introduction kills two birds with one stone.
It points to the vulnerability of the Muslim minority to predation by the instruments of the State. As the above detail notes, the assault on institutions over the past four and half years has included placement of those subscribing to the political agenda of right-wing formations and/or united in their devotion for Messiah Modi – such as that of retired super-cop and Gujarat’s very own Ab tak Chappan, DG Vanzara – at the helm of the rule of law institutions. These institutions then lend themselves to the majoritarian, Hindutva project of Othering of the main minority community, essential prerequisite in their world view to uniting Hindus seen as a disparate majority.
Thus the minority security problematic is double-fold. It is not quite what it is made out to be in mainstream strategic discourse and by the lap-dog media. This popular narrative has it that the minority is susceptible to inducement of religious extremists and liable to be manipulated by extra-regional forces and a friendly neighbourhood intelligence agency, whose operatives once were ten feet tall. The security problematic is therefore not only to bust this widely and long fostered impression but to reveal its antecedents as part of the cultural nationalist reset of India. This amounts to mainstreaming a ‘conspiracy theory’, a double bind.
The sudden IS advent in the cow-dust belt was complemented by the invasion by masked and unidentified men into Srinagar’s hoary Jama Masjid and their waving of IS flags. Their antecedents are now known as yet, but the intrusion prompted permission for an unusual rally by separatist forces in Kashmir against the attempt to capture the political plank of the sub-nationalist struggle by global religious extremists. That Kashmir is perpetually in the grey zone of intelligence activity (Arundhati Roy is entirely believable on this in her last bestseller), the jury is out on whether the intrusion was prompted by the intelligence agency from across the border or within it. Since it makes little sense for Pakistan to be at cross purposes with separatists, the finger rather points inwards. It makes a great deal of sense for Indian intelligence agencies to put under cloud the sub-nationalist aspirations of Kashmiri Muslims. Associating their struggle with the almost defunct extremism in the Levant helps perpetuate the jackboot over a territorial space having a localized majority of the minority community. It also contributes to the Othering process, with the association with India’s longstanding foe, Pakistan, reinforcing the fifth column myth. In any case, the conflict conditions that give rise to extremism, witnessed elsewhere to the west, continue in Kashmir.
The Hindutva project has been on for at least two decades, going back to the first tenure of the right-wing led coalition at the Centre. It continued under the intervening United Progressive Alliance. Those charged with political oversight had little intrinsic political weight, reliant as they were on the hangover of the ‘family’ name. So much so that Salman Khursheed, a minister in the UPA government, has gone on to admit that his party has ‘blood on its hands’. It did not follow through with the necessary rigour on leads that could have prevented the Modi wave, such as in the case of the murder of Haren Pandya, a political rival of Narendra Modi in his early days as chief minister.
The murder has interesting legacy in that Haren Pandya’s alleged killers, Sohrabuddin, was killed in an alleged encounter – while UPA presided at Delhi. Sohrabuddin’s alleged killer cops from Gujarat and Rajasthan were let off recently, even as their political masters whose alleged bidding they were carrying out went free earlier. This closes the chapter in which BJP head, Amit Shah, figured prominently and which included salient twists such as the untimely death of CBI judge Brijgopal Loya.
This seeming diversion is to highlight that the situation is rather grim. If the UPA’s ten years could not reverse the onward march of the Hindutva project and rein in its foot soldiers, the Modi period has allowed them full play. Muslim lynchings are merely the visible spectrum. A subterranean rot can be anticipated. Detoxification would be challenging. But that is to get the horse ahead of the cart. First is to get into place an administration sensitive to the task, with the previous UPA tenure hardly lending confidence if this is at all possible.
Renewed Muslim-bashing compounds this. It is not a coincidence that the news of another seaside terror attack on-the-make surfaced recently. The cow brigade tried at the eve of the provincial elections to spring another Muzaffarnagar 2013, this time to coincide with the gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat at Bulandshahr. Unfortunately for conspirators, overzealousness led to the killing of a cop and unwanted national attention. A riot attempt botched at inception, the BJP lost three Hindi heartland states. Such attempts can be expected to continue under the benign over-watch of the saffron-clad Ajay Mohan Bisht (alias Yogi Adityanath)-led provincial administration. The Kumbh congregation over the coming months provides a backdrop. It is not unthinkable for a warped intelligence mind to think up a terror threat to the gathering and put polarization back as an election gimmick. It is a curious oversight on part of NIA spin doctors that in the prospective targets of the IS module busted late last month, the Kumbh mela did not figure. For a strategic actor, that the terrorist ‘gang’ (as per the NIA press release) was primed to go prematurely on New Year’s eve suggests there can only be more to the story.
As anticipated by many commentators, the Modi-Shah duo is left with polarization alone as its trump card. The Ram Mandir issue, minority-perpetrated terror and the National Register of Citizens – each with a handy minority angle - are available as issues. The pulling out of the BJP from the coalition with the People’s Democratic Party in Kashmir was timed to ensure that the elections in Jammu and Kashmir are held with the national elections, allowing for six months of governor’s rule followed up with president’s rule. This along with keeping Pakistan’s outstretched hand of late at bay enables the ruling party to orchestrate the inside-outside linkage at will as elections approach. The hyping of the surgical strikes, through the Parv Parakram, is not without purpose.
This is the near term manifestation of minority insecurity. Minority security is intrinsic to national security. National security requires turning the leaf, away from its appropriation by cultural nationalism. India’s minority must engage with questions of national import. A holistic minority security enterprise would require settling of India’s Pakistan problem and the Kashmir question. It would require being abreast of the developments on questions of state identity, such as the Rohingya issue or that of the illegal immigration. It is easy to see that this is only possible by a liberal turn to politics and policy making.
Less easy to see is the need for the minority to see its security problematic as an interconnected whole. What is critical to the Assamese and Bengali Muslims in the northeast must exercise Muslim communities elsewhere. The incessant killings of Kashmiri youth – 255 last year - cannot be left unremarked anymore. There has to be minority viewpoint on and minority participation in the national debate of seemingly distant issues as Article 35A, Article 370, the Citizenship (Amendment) bill etc. The underlying logic of creation of a self-regarding minority is to strengthen its own security and national security, of which minority security is subset.
This is easier said. In the current national security problematic the minority is seen as a security problem. This is the minority security problematic that needs reversing.
The author is a UN-trained political analyst