Tag Archives | reaction

Nationalism is not an epithet

Why is Nationalism an anathema to some Indian commentators?

After the Americans took out Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan in a stunning military raid, the mainstream Indian reaction has been one of vindication — telling the world “I told you so” about Pakistan. After all, having suffered for many decades from the terror unleashed by the Pakistani state, schadenfreude would be a perfectly acceptable emotion among Indians.

Within a couple of days of the Abbottabad raid, India’s army and air force chiefs were asked a straight-forward question by the journalists about India’s capability to conduct a similar overseas raid. Their answer was an honest one — Yes. It was a perfectly valid response to a direct question posed to them. We should not expect it to be any other way.

Since then, Pakistani media has chosen to highlight the above themes in its coverage of Indian reaction to the Abbottabad raid. This is understandable because it allows India to be portrayed as one aggressive big-brother with evil and nefarious designs that only the Pakistani military (and its jehadi proxies) can effectively counter.

However, even more amazingly, there is a section of Indian commentators, writing in both the Indian and Pakistani media, which has copied that line. These commentators (and this blogger is deliberately avoiding taking any names in order to avoid a controversy) blame the Indians for being vocal about their feelings of vindication, and criticise the service chiefs for their straight-forward answer. They suggest that Indians need to be more considerate and sympathetic towards the feelings of the Pakistani state, where the army and the ISI feel outraged by the violation of its sovereignty by the US.

Of course, these commentators are entitled to their opinion and have the utmost freedom to express their view. They have been able to establish this viewpoint as the fashionable one, and the influence they wield via the mass media has allowed them to implant these thoughts in many impressionable Indian minds. Unless countered vigorously, it has debilitating consequences in the offing for the Indian society.

These commentators are usually christened as liberals or left-liberals in public discourse. Liberals or not, these folks seem completely dissociated from our past, our history, our people and from our very existence. Their disengagement has become so extreme that everything alien is their fashion of choice. And the more alien, the more fashionable it is. It seems that advocating an adversary’s line is being used by the commentator to bolster her independent credentials.

Observed closely, all their arguments flow from the presumption that India and Indians can never be right. As India and Indians are not right, the corollary then is for India to come up with solutions — making one concession after the other — till it meets the approval of the adversary.

Nationalism seems an anathema to these commentators, an epithet which they shouldn’t be tagged with.

For the first fifty years of the previous century, nationalism was the mantra of public and intellectual discourse in this country. The foundations of India’s independence and its continuing journey as a Republic were laid in that discourse. The word has unfortunately been devalued since. It is now used by joining it to other pejoratives  — communalism, fascism, chauvinism, jingoism and fanaticism. Once nationalism becomes a dirty word, synonymous with fascism, it is explicable that these commentators feel the need to strike a pose — a pose which conveys that they are not Nationalist (any by extension, neither fascist nor communal).

As my colleague Nitin Pai has explained (here), automatically equating nationalism with intolerance is wrong. And dangerous, if I may add, as being witnessed in the current instance. Nationalism must be liberal, and that is what we should aspire for in India. As Nitin articulated in his essay on Liberal Nationalism:

Liberalism (or libertarianism, in its American usage) is concerned about individual freedom. To enjoy freedom in practice, the individual gives up some of it to the state. The state, a nation-state in India’s case, exists to ensure the rights, freedoms and well-being (yogakshema) of its people. So ensuring the survival and security of the Indian state—by maximising its relative power internationally—is wholly consistent with allowing its citizens to live in freedom.[Acorn]

There is no reason for anyone among us to be apologetic about Indian nationalism. Indian Nationalism is fully consistent with the values enshrined in the preamble to the Indian Constitution — our Constitution, which is the lodestar of modern Indian nationhood.

Nationalism is about putting the interests of India and Indians first, without compromising on any of our constitutional ideals. Let us not allow it to be any other way.

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The Benaras bomb

The terrorists are not succeeding. But why are we publicising their narrative?

The IED blast at Varanasi last evening, claimed by the Indian Mujahideen [IM], was both a success and a failure. The terrorists failed to inflict any real and substantive physical damage at the site or cause major casualties with the blast. People were injured mainly in the stampede caused after the blast. Every single death is despicable — more so when it is of a two-year old child — but measured on the yardstick of major terror strikes, it was but a minor blip on the radar. But the terrorists succeeded in their other aim — of garnering publicity. The IM email claiming the “credit” for the terror strike was all over the media — on television, at the web and in the newspapers. Stories about the renewed terror threat from IM followed soon after.

It is nobody’s case that the government censor the coverage of the terrorists or their purported claims. But those who cover the event — on television and social media — have a responsibility to be objective and contextual. They cannot — even if only inadvertently — create an impression that the terrorists who did the blasts in Varanasi were “ten-feet tall supermen”. Even if this terror attack was a success, albeit a very limited one, there is a need to eschew the temptation to treat it as a greater disaster than its destructive power warrants. The country will help define the success of any terror attack by its reaction to that attack.The terrorists want to leverage the terror-strike to build their brand equity and the media must not strengthen their hands by hyping and publicising their narrative.

This is different from what the state must do. The state machinery must be ruthless in targeting and eliminating terrorists and their supporters. While the state must kill the terrorist, the media can too lend a helping hand by killing his narrative. These have to be the two prongs of a successful counter-terror strategy now.

The blast must have been obviously planned well, and the IM has a track-record to boast of that capability. But the execution failed. What succeeded was the publicity it got by the broadcast of its email. IM’s core competence seems to have shifted from successfully executing deadly terror strikes to drafting more coherent emails.

Furthermore, there were reports to suggest that the IM had deliberately triggered a low-intensity blast at Varanasi , as if these terrorists were humane and wanted to avoid casualties. Nothing could be farther from the truth. These terrorists are brutal murderers who don’t flinch in slaughtering innocent men, women and children. Let us not blame on strategy what can be adequately explained by incompetence.

In the aftermath of the blast, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram’s public reaction to the media about the supposed laxity of UP police at Varanasi was unwarranted; and so was the gross public over-reaction by the UP government thereafter. Union Home Minister should have conveyed his observations about the lapses in security or intelligence sharing in an official fora. Having done a decent job in the last two years, especially in countering Islamist terror threat on the Indian mainland, Mr Chidambaram must be careful enough to not spoil his record by trying to score political points now.

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Yes, even this is about police reforms

The recent incidents from J&K again bring home the pressing need for police reforms in India.

Shouldn’t the Jammu & Kashmir police and the CRPF handle the protests by stone-pelters far more professionally than they are actually doing today? Of course, yes. They should. No one will deny that they can employ more non-lethal means (although there are no truly non-lethal means as this fatal incident with rubber bullet amply demonstrated) to prevent mobs from gathering in the first place, could have used better intelligence to nab the ring leaders and kept the casualty figures down.

So why did this not happen? Because the threat of jehadi terror still visibly exists in Kashmir (remember the incident in Sopore where three policemen were shot dead by terrorists); the mobs have been violent and murderous in their intent setting alight police stations, CRPF posts and armouries; the police and the CRPF have been attuned to dealing with violent jehadi terrorists for two decades and could not adapt to the new tactics by the separatists; and the non-lethal means of mob control do not exist in sufficient numbers with the police in the state (although some equipment has been introduced in recent weeks).

How can the reaction of the police then be improved? This means that the police force must possess the ability to seamlessly operate across the complete spectrum of public safety and security to establish law and order. The only way to ensure that capability is by making the police more professional. And one thing that will bring in professionalism in the police force is what no one in this country wants to talk about: police reforms.

From Manipur to Maoist areas to Gujarat to Delhi, the pressing need for police reforms has been continuously driven home. While the politicians have avoided listening to the message — despite a Supreme Court ruling to this effect — public apathy towards this critical subject of national importance has allowed the governments, at centre and states — and of all political hues — to get away with studied inaction on initiating police reforms.

The poor cop on the ground, being forced to open fire on violent mobs, more out of a sense of self-preservation and self-defence than any murderous intent, is not to be blamed for what many perceive to be a high-handed reaction by the police. Should that policeman not train his lethal weapon on the mob because he or she has not been provided with a non-lethal option and thus allow the mob to run rampage? That expectation is unrealistic for the policeman is trying to make the best use of resources, training and leadership made available to him, while still enforcing the writ of a fumbling state.

Perhaps we can be satisfied by blaming the ubiquitous system and the executive for lacking the political will to undertake police reforms. But that might not hold completely true either. The civil society has equally failed in its duty by not generating enough public will to force the politicians to act.

In 2008, it was Mumbai on 26/11, then it was Dantewada earlier this year, now it is Srinagar and Sopore in Jammu & Kashmir; tomorrow it could be Commonwealth Games in Delhi or some other violent protest elsewhere in the country. The choice is ours. Either we can continue to lament at the inadequacy of our police force. Or create enough public pressure to force the governments and political parties to undertake police reforms. The choice is indeed ours.

Related posts:

A starting point — Police reforms

Unanimity among Indian politicians

The missing police

The quality of police capacity

To tackle Maoists, begin with police reforms

Kick-starting police reforms

Frankly, we don’t give a damn

Law, and order

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Expressing grief not good enough

The nation needs to know from the Union government what its anti-Maoist strategy is.

So this was the reaction of Union Railway Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee to the horrific mishap that took place in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district on the Gyaneshwari Express.

“Trains have been made soft targets. We have appealed repeatedly that rail services should not be disrupted. Railway is going for a high-power investigation but at the same time I will request the home minister to investigate the matter and whoever is responsible, take necessary reaction.”[India Today]

Well the Railway Minister’s reaction of appealing repeatedly to some one — who, unnamed miscreants perhaps — that rail services should not be disrupted is entirely on expected lines. Along with Mr Nitish Kumar, Mr Shibu Soren and myriad Congress leaders like Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, Ms Banerjee has been overtly sympathetic to the Maoist cause — not for any deep ideological reasons but for purely electoral ones. And here is her official statement as the Railway Minister:

The Minister of Railways, Mamata Banerjee, who reached the accident site at 6.30 A.M., has termed the train accident as most unfortunate. The Railway Minister, who has been closely monitoring and supervising the situation since the time of its occurrence, strongly condemned this kind of violence. She expressed her profound grief over the loss of innocent lives.[PIB]

And here is the official press release of the Prime Minister:

The Prime Minister has expressed grief over the loss of lives in the derailment of the Gyaneshwari Express near Sardiya in West Bengal. The Prime Minister has asked the Railways and other authorities to ensure that all assistance is provided to the bereaved families, those injured and other passengers.[PIB]

But the most surprising official response has come from the Union Home Minister, Mr P Chidambaram.

I am deeply saddened by the tragedy that struck the Howrah-Kurla-Jnaneswari Express train in West Midnapore district in West Bengal this morning. It appears to be a case of sabotage where a portion of the railway track was removed. Whether explosives were used is not yet clear.

I convey my sincere and heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased. I offer my sympathies to the injured; every effort is being made to rush them to hospitals for medical treatment.[PIB]

Evidently, every concerned minister in the union government is ‘saddened’, has ‘expressed grief’, has ‘offered sympathies’ and one of them has ‘condemned this kind of violence’ and that is the end of it. There is not a single word about the Maoists, their brutality, and what the government intends to do to counter their nefarious designs.

The rhetoric of “Left Wing Extremism is the gravest internal security challenge facing the country” by the Prime Minister is no longer enough. A government speaking in different voices is not good enough; the Home Minister doesn’t have the full mandate to take on the Maoists, the home ministry moves from a Security First to a dual-pronged strategy of ‘development and security’ without any justification as to what brought about this change. It is no secret that the state governments are equally to blame for the perilous state of anti-Maoist operations in this country. But when the Centre itself is so confused and dithering in its approach and has not defined and articulated a strategy, how can it afford to bring the states on board.

The UPA government can refer the caste enumeration issue to a Group of Ministers. It can use the same device to delay a decision on oil pricing, FDI in insurance, spectrum sharing and many other subjects without getting noticed. It can delay the process of defence modernisation without getting noticed for its act of omission. It can use Track-2 interlocutors to push for a deal with Pakistan without taking the nation into confidence. But none of these tactics and devices will work for the UPA government when it comes to finding a way to deal with the Maoists. It has to decide its anti-Maoist strategy, resource it fully, back it with a hitherto unseen political will, seek the popular backing of the nation and take the proverbial battle to the Maoists.

The nation is well within its rights to know from the government what it intends to do to counter the Maoist threat. In fact, the union government is duty bound to explain to the nation its policy regarding Maoist violence and its anti-Maoist strategy. The onus is now upon the Prime Minister to step forward and take the nation into confidence with a well-articulated strategy. That shall form the basis for his government, along with the state governments, to act uninhibitedly against the Maoists. And finish their scourge.

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A General blogs

But he is with the US army in Iraq. Will any Indian top brass follow the lead to use these new mediums of communicating with troops?

A two-star General commanding over 19,000 troops in active operations is blogging and holding online chats with his troops. Only the theatre is Iraq and the general is from the US Army — Major General Michael Oates.

It is not in fact going around the chain of command; it allows us to connect to the chain of command in ways we have not been able to experience before.[Danger Room]

The average blog post is a one or two liner, a question, designed to elicit frank responses from his soldiers and junior officers .

A quick query, on “what need to be changed,” led to an improvement in mental health care at Ft. Drum, New York, where is unit is based. Another on “tour lengths in Iraq” sparked a fevered, 40-comment debate with soldiers and family members taking Oates to task in ways that would be unimaginable face-to-face.

The usual official excuse of such public forums being a security threat is  dismissed by the General outright.

Oates finds the security concerns overblown. “I think its a normal institutional reaction, conservative reaction to information,” he tells Danger Room. “But I tend to think that’s a very minor thing; most soldiers don’t have critical, national-security-sensitive information. They just don’t possess that kind of information, so I don’t see that as a problem.”

And for those so bound to holding the traditions in the Indian armed forces that they consider such ideas blasphemous in the Indian scenario, Oates puts it in the right context.

“Fundamentally what I’m doing is not new. What I’m doing is communicating with my soldiers. What’s new is the medium in which we’re communicating.”

It is in this strong resistance to embracing these tools, medium and ideas of an information age that Indian armed forces are unable to create the soft power of attraction.

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Chinese counterchanges

A reaction or a catalyst?

The Chinese did an about-turn at the NSG meet to nearly scuttle the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. Now they are trying to replicate that with a Pak-China nuclear deal. And they have openly joined the Pakistani Coffee Club at the UN to oppose Indian bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.

Is this a reaction to the increased bonhomie in Indo-US relations? Or is China pushing India and US further closer to each other?  This one seems to be a double bind.

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