Thursday, March 27, 2014

First Person Singular: ‘Thank You!’

This is to say ‘Thank you!’

VOXINDICA was voted BlogAdda’s ‘BEST POLITICAL BLOG IN INDIA’ in the Win14 contest.

This is to say ‘Thank you!’ to the eminent jury that voted VOXINDICA. 

This is to say ‘Thank you!’ to Blog Adda.  

But first and foremost, I would like to say ‘Thank you!’ to you, ‘Dear reader’, for your patience and patronage over the years.

A prime reason for starting VOXINDICA was the negation of space for the ‘right of centre’ views in the mainstream media.

As an aside, the word ‘mainstream’ is perhaps a misnomer. Indian Media, both electronic and print, is highly fragmented. Consider these statistics: India has 825 television channels which together command a television viewing universe of 500 million at an average of 6,06,060. Similarly, India has 82,237 newspapers, with a combined circulation of 329 million (2010-11) with a per capita of 4003. Each fraction of the MSM, at best, represents a partisan view, defined by a certain commerce-driven social and political code of conduct.

The reasons for the media to be dominated by the left-liberal crowd can only be surmised. John Storey’s observation that cultural studies’ is itself grounded in Marxism might be true even in the Indian context.     

Here is an instance of how intolerant can the mainstream media be: During late 2011 and early 2012, I was contributing a series of articles for an English language daily. The Op-Ed page editor was all praise for my work and was insisting that I should contribute at least one piece every week. Indeed, he had published 12 of my articles in about three months, between October 11, 2011 and January 8, 2012. However, realization dawned on him that I was not one of those card carrying members of the left-liberal club, when I submitted an article on the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits. It was in the third week of January 1989 that the systematic cleansing of the Pandits in the Kashmir valley began. Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate to write a piece on their plight in the third week of January (2012). In my piece, I suggested that the humanitarian disaster that befell the Pandits was a genuine example of genocide, although the term genocide was used, abused and misused over and over again during the last decade with reference to the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. This was what I wrote:

Our intellectuals and media crib and caw about the settlements in West Bank and Gaza and the injustices done to the Palestinians, but not a whisper from them about the fate of the exiled Kashmiri Pandits. No group of prominent public figures had petitioned on their behalf; no celebrity authors cried in their defence. They were once the elite of the Kashmiri society. The community produced artistes and artisans, poets and musicians, doctors and lawyers of amazing wisdom. At the turn of the century there were about a million Kashmiri Hindus in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. At the time of independence the proportion of Hindus in the Kashmir valley was 15% of the population. By 1991 it came down to less than 1%. 

The word “genocide” has been worn out in popular usage during the last decade. It has been so freely bandied about in public discourse that it lost its original meaning. If ever there was a context for it to be justifiably applied, it was in the case of the Kashmiri PanditsGenocide’ means, the systematic and widespread extermination or attempted extermination of an entire national, racial, religious, or ethnic group’. This is what happened to the ethnic identity called the Kashmiri Pandits. 

I could not make out whether it was the first paragraph or the second or both that got the editor’s goat, but after the submission of the article he bluntly informed me that he would no longer publish my articles. He gave me some specious explanation as to why he would not accept the piece: ‘schools and colleges are reopening in Kashmir and the situation is returning to normal.’ Schools and colleges might be reopening, and the situation might be returning to normal but wasn’t it with an important segment of the society completely ostracized? I tried to explain the topicality and the human interest involved in the story, but he would not give me a chance to get in a word edgewise. He had already made up his mind. He dismissed me with the usual anodyne.

The newspaper later commissioned one of those dyed-in-the-wool left-liberal writers to write a weekly column on minority affairs. Aren’t Hindus a minority in Kashmir? Well, that is India’s mainstream media!

In his eponymous title, ‘Can We Trust The BBC?’, Roger Aitken pointed out that there is a tendency on the part of the mainstream media to screen out ‘inconvenient other versions of the truth’. This is what India’s mainstream media did in its coverage of the Gujarat riots of 2002. Quite a few readers of VOXINDICA were surprised to read in Gujarat riots and the ‘secular’ Galahads of justice that it was Eqbal Ishan Jaffri who precipitated the Gulmarg society seize by opening fire with his licensed revolver, killing two and injuring thirteen people.

VOXINIDICA debuted on June 30, 2005. Over the decade, a spectrum of issues and various genres were covered. It has a small, dedicated and - going by the comments posted on the articles - intelligent readership, not necessarily always agreeing with the viewpoints presented. Here is a comment posted anonymously by a reader. It points to the direction of reader expectations, especially from VOXINDICA.        

“I normally refrain myself from commenting on blogs … … … I am afraid I can’t hide my disappointment anymore over the fact that you have, of late, inclined more towards book reviews than commenting on current affairs.

At a time when there is a dying need for the articulation of the centre-of-the-right’s views on every issue, especially in the English language, we cannot afford to … digress and take the easier route of book reviews. I hope you find your zest once again … … … [to write] commentary on current media/political affairs … … …”


The comment was posted on June 7, 2012 on the article, Lies, Damn Lies & Reporting Gujarat.

I have posted several articles on the issue of M. F. Hussain’s paintings, which discussed the limits to freedom of expression and the secular polity’s selective demand for its application.

The articles, which quite a few readers disagreed with were, quite predictably, Indo-US Nuclear Deal Demystified, Foreign investment in retail, boon or bane?, Federalism and National Security and Temples, Toilets & Minority Politics. The four articles on the formation of Telangana, Telangana & Political Ploys, Formation of Telangana, Claims & Counterclaims, Murder of Democracy and Congress And BJP Gang Up To Derail Democracy, Shame Parliament quite appropriately evoked mixed responses depending on which side of the divide a reader is.

I take this opportunity to thank Mr. S. Kiran Kumar for contributing Gujarat riots saw many bloodier riots before 2002, the only article that was not written by me and one of the most popular posts on this blog.

U. Narayana Das

Friday, March 21, 2014

Asymmetric Warfare

Book Review

Someshwar, Manreet Sodhi. (2013). The Hunt For Kohinoor. Westland Ltd. Chennai. Pages: 425.  Price Rs. 295/-

In the aftermath of the event which has come to be known as 9/11 since then, the phrase ‘asymmetric warfare’ was popular and in vogue for about a decade. If for Carl von Clausewitz warfare was an extension of politics by ‘other means’, for the terrorist, asymmetric warfare was the policy. But there is a difference. For von Clausewitz politics was for national interest and nation building. For the terrorist, asymmetric warfare was a means to achieve an ill-defined cause, religion for example.  

Other nations like Israel, and India had been victims of terror. But till 9/11, the US has been oblivious to the threat and convinced of its own invincibility might have been a tad patronizing to the victims of terror. By the time the US woke up to realize it was not immune to the terror threat after all, India had had several bouts of it, including separatist insurgencies in the northeastern states, Naxalite insurgency in the east-central corridor, the Khalistani movement and lastly the violence in Kashmir that forced 500000 Hindus into ‘internal exile’. In most cases the insurgencies were externally engineered and fuelled by exploiting internal fault lines but Kashmir was different.

Montgomery Meigs, a retired General of the US Army, reviewing ten centuries of jehadi terrorism, wrote in 2003 that “Actually, al Qaeda’s overall strategy is not new. … Today, only the mechanism of attack has changed. The mechanism of attack has indeed changed. It is to deliver a spectacular blow to the perceived common enemy designated as the kaffir (infidel). The destruction of the World Trade Centre in 2001 falls in the category.

Saudi Arabia, home to the most radicalized form of Islam, known as Wahabism is generally known to be the financier of international terrorism, and Pakistan the supplier of operatives. However the nineteen member team that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in 2001 was drawn from nine nations.

When Frederick Forsyth wrote The Afghan (2006), a second spectacular strike (after 9/11) was only in the realm of speculation. But it did take place, not in the west as everyone supposed it might be attempted, but on India. The attack on Mumbai, India’s financial capital in 2008 was achieved with the help of a number of ‘sleeper modules’.

Youngsters are indoctrinated to such an extreme degree of hatred (of the infidel) that they not only perpetrate mass murder without the slightest of qualms but are willing to self-destruct themselves in the process. These youngsters are infiltrated into the unsuspecting enemy nation where they merge into the mosaic of society so unobtrusively that it is impossible to detect. They lay in wait like a snake ready to strike when called to so. In intelligence parlance, they are known as sleeper modules. In his The Kill List (2013) Forsyth portrayed the indoctrination of ‘waiting snakes’ and how they were deployed to cause havoc among unsuspecting societies.  

It is not even whispered due to a skewed sense of political correctness, but Indian intelligence agencies are aware of the sleeper cells that exist in India and the availability of potential candidates to carry out terror operations.  

Apart from the international terror matrix that bedevils the world, there is an India specific threat that resides in its neighbourhood and engineered by its sworn enemy, Pakistan. The threat is ever present. It has been ‘bleeding India through a thousand cuts’. Deciding that it cannot wrest Kashmir through warfare, Pakistan has resorted to the more insidious mode of asymmetric warfare. The Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the deadly India-specific terrorist organisation is a creation of its intelligence agency, the ISI. However, as Hillary Clinton, the American Secretary of State advised Pakistan, she could not harbour a snake hoping it would bite only her enemies. While the asymmetric warfare unleashed against India is denting the economic progress of Jammu & Kashmir, which Pakistan, ostensibly professes to rescue, it is bleeding itself out.

It was in the reign of Atal Behari Vajpayee that an attempt to bring about a rapprochment between India and Pakistan was mooted. His opposite number in Pakistan at the time was General Musharaf. The aborted Agra summit (2001) between Vajpayee and Musharaf is too well-known.

In her novel, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar sets the summit in Kargil instead of in Agra. It was the culmination of ‘Operation Karakoram’ a series of high level talks designed to find a solution to the vexed, decades-old problem. As proof of his bona fides Gen. Zaidi, the Pakistani President was to hand over secret documents (which he codenamed Kohinoor) that would help the Indian Prime Minister avert the next big terror attack on India. However the summit was sabotaged from the Pakistani side and the general assassinated as he descended from his helicopter. In the attack, an ace Indian Intelligence agent, Harinder Singh Khosa, popularly known as Harry was seriously wounded.

Harry, an undercover agent of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was tasked to halt ISI patronage to Khalistani terrorists. As head of the CIT-Z (counter intelligence team Z, where ‘Z’ means Zamzama the large bore cannon mentioned by Rudyard Kipling in his Kim) team, he brilliantly carried out the operation forcing the ISI to call for a meeting with RAW. A little after the operation, as Harry was in a joint operation with the Afghan intelligence agency KHAD, he was wounded in the head by a rock splintered and dislodged by a mortar shell. The knock made him unconscious for several days, but when he woke up, he lost a part of his memory. He forgot about his family of wife and daughter. Harry regained the memory when he was wounded in the head for a second time at the sabotaged summit meeting between the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistani President Gen. Zaidi. Although he regained his memory, he was critically wounded and in no fit condition to travel for a while and undertake a mission.

Jag Misra, head of the Pakistan desk in RAW and Harry’s boss recruits his daughter Mehrunnisa, an art historian by profession to stand in to finish the mission. Mehrunnisa born to a Sikh husband and his Iranian Muslim wife has drop-dead looks and is fluent in several languages. Eventually, consumed as much by patriotic zeal as he was by fatherly love, Harry overcomes the anguish of a pain-wracked body to join the ‘hunt for Kohinoor’. What follows is, as the blurb says ‘a spine-chilling ninety-six hour hunt through the world’s most dangerous terrain’.

The Hunt For Kohinoor portrays a diabolical plot that is far more deadly in its sweep than the WTC bombing or even the 2008 attack on Mumbai.