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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Moditva versus Hindutva

Those waiting for Narendra Modi to show his true khaki/saffron colours must be hugely disappointed. Instead of articulating muscular Hindutva, he sounds like a Congressman making noises about ‘inclusive’ vikas, democracy, pluralism, non-violence and Swaccha Bharat. He showers praise on Indian Muslims for their commitment to the idea of India.
The Sangh Parivar icons — Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar — are replaced by Gandhi, Patel and Nehru. He junks his oldest partner in Project Hindutva, the Shiv Sena and allows Sharad Pawar to cosy up to him! So, what the hell is going on?
It is generally believed that anyone who has ever been through the ideological mills of the Sangh Parivar is committed to the Hindu Rashtra agenda unflinchingly and that once the initial liberal antics are over, the remote control from Nagpur will ensure that the ‘real’ agenda comes back into focus.
Modi critics currently offer two explanations for the apparent paradox that he is turning out to be. One is that playing the good cop/bad cop routine has always been a part of the RSS/BJP repertoire and with Modi playing the development and good governance part and Amit Shah et al keeping the communal pot boiling, the resultant confusion is intended to clear the way for the insidious advance of Hindutva.
The other, a variation, credits Modi with Machiavellian duplicity and cunning by which he has successfully fooled aspirational middle India into accepting his ‘spin’ and his demonic self is bound to emerge sooner than we can imagine. The holocaust, according to these doomsayers, is not far behind.
Wrong assumptions
One of the cardinal mistakes of the left-leaning liberal intelligentsia is to invest the RSS with superhuman indoctrination capabilities — by virtue of which its members and sympathisers get fired by hyper-nationalist, ideological fervour and they become immune to the social, political and cultural trends impacting the rest of Indian society.
This is questionable. There is no empirical evidence to indicate that the Sangh Parivar members remain untouched by forces of modernity, cultural globalisation and ‘aspirational’ economic growth. Organisationally, too, RSS is as prone to the pulls and pressures of competing beliefs and value systems, internal power struggles, bureaucratic turf wars, petty intrigues, scandals as any other. Their ideology machine is rusty, with little by way of fresh intellectual inputs in response to fundamental social and cultural changes taking place all around them.
The westernised, Nehruvian, liberal elite that it saw as its principal threat is no longer a force and the minorities too cannot be overtly identified as the ‘other’ to define themselves against without harming the BJP’s electoral prospects. There is little left therefore to sharpen their ideological claws against.
Continuing to see Modi as an arch, iconic representative of the RSS blinds us to the dramatically different phenomenon Modi is turning out to be and the way he is shaping Indian politics around ‘Brand Modi’.
Keeping it clean
We know that Modi is possibly the smartest, shrewdest politician in India today with an unmatched capacity for long term strategic thinking; plays his cards close to the chest and has supreme confidence in his abilities to turn the game around.
He is also the most inspirational mass communicator we have seen since Vajpayee. We also know that first in Gujarat and now at the national level, he has decimated and marginalised any internal dissidence in the party. The elders have been kicked upstairs and the rivals co-opted in a way that they can be checked at will. Some of the loony fringe have been inducted into positions where they can be controlled and some others thrown into oblivion.
Since the Gujarat riots neither in word nor in deed has Modi betrayed any signs of communal bias. True, he may not always have spoken out against communal potboilers as vociferously as he could or should have (but there could be a tactical reason for that), or made demonstrable overtures to win the hearts of the minorities, but he has scrupulously avoided making an overtly communal remark or gesture.
On the other hand he has displayed a single-minded focus on good governance, on economic growth, on business promotion and investment attraction, on infrastructure creation and on ‘delivery’. Throughout his election campaign and thereafter he has been at pains to talk of cultural inclusiveness, of all Indians coming together for a mission to transform India, of humanity, of his debt to Buddhism, of the need to abjure violence, of the need to fight battles across South Asia against poverty, against terror, against sectarian trends. All these are part of a very carefully constructed and attractively packaged ‘Brand Modi’.
This brand has no place for anti-minority propaganda and no room to carry the Hindutva baggage. The electoral success of the brand depended and will depend on biting off huge chunks of the secular, centrist vote. Modi does not have to pander to the Hindutva brigade.
He has created a huge constituency of his own across India, across the young, aspirational population, across castes and communities and across regions. No one in the BJP has ever managed to do this. While cadre-based support of the Sangh Parivar has its uses, Modi is now capable of building his own cadres around Brand Modi. The RSS and the BJP need Modi to stay relevant not the other way around. Brand Modi is much, much bigger.
The road ahead
Obviously, throwing out the Hindutva baggage cannot be done overnight. It also has to be done in a way that avoids direct confrontation. So how can this be achieved? It has been done partially by having co-opted and accommodated sections of it within the government, where they have been kept completely under control. The rest of them were left to work off their own steam.
The Yogis and the Sakshi Maharajs had come to believe that it was the stridency, the pugnaciousness and the belligerence of their variety of Hindutva which had given them the edge in UP and they could rely on communal mobilisation plus anti incumbency against Samajwadi Party to carry them home. They were allowed, intentionally I think, to take the lead and build their own lunatic platform of Love Jihad. Access to Brand Modi was denied.
At the same time by maintaining complete silence on their shenanigans they were allowed to think that they could dominate the show. They now stand discredited in ways that no disclaimers from Modi could ever have achieved.
Is this a genuine transformation? Will the closet Hindu in Modi make an eventual come back? Who knows? But personal political ambition is a bigger driver than any ideology and Narendra Modi is here to realise and fulfil his ambition to be the greatest Prime Minister of independent India. Hindutva will not be allowed to thwart that ambition.
The writer is a former Secretary to the Government of India

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Bogey of Public Security

Although my major claim to fame is as a practitioner with a  flair for recalcitrance and controversy, I have always had an obsession for conceptual and theoretical explorations before undertaking any action. I have never understood the theory versus practice or policy versus implementation divide, believing as I still do, that poor theory and poor policy leads to bad practice and bad practices , in turn, generate still poorer policies. This is because we think that conceptual concerns are not very relevant to hard, down to earth issues like ‘public security’ where the  meaning is and should be obvious enough to everyone. But is it?

Have we ever paused to wonder why our sense of security has declined in inverse proportion to the growth of the ‘security’ industry- an industry which spans the bureaucracy, the military and the police, the private sector, the academia and the world of the security analyst and the security expert?  Thirty years ago, at the peak of the extremist upsurge in Punjab, I had no hesitation in travelling the length and breadth of Punjab with no ‘security’ without ever feeling threatened. Sixty years ago, Prime Minister Nehru could be spotted on Delhi roads being driven in a car with no escorts, no pilots, no accompanying security personnel and just a chauffeur. Was it bravado or was it a fact that most of us genuinely felt secure because in a hard won democracy, a free citizenry  was seen as the best safeguard against any threats to safety and well being? Is a Prime Minister who lives behind  electrified barbed wires and moves  around in a motorcade of forty bullet proofed limousines on roads which are sanitised before he can enter them more secure than a Raksha Mantri who just ten years ago had had the gates to his house removed so that anyone could enter his house at anytime without any let or hindrance? Were threats to security in relation to the times any less then than they are now?

I know it will be said that the world has changed after 9/11, 2001 or 26/11, 2008, or 31/10, 1984 or 21/5 ,1991 but the point is whether people are more ’secure’ today with the humongous investments we have made in providing more security, than they were thirty or fifty years ago and if they are not , is there not something fundamentally wrong with our concept of what constitutes ‘security’?

A major part of the problem lies in treating ‘security’ as a stand alone  analytical category and a value in itself, hoping that the inherent fuzziness of the concept will go away if one hyphenates it with ‘public’ or ‘national’ or ’homeland’ or ‘food’ or ‘energy’ or ‘environment’. The fact is that without conceptual clarity and definitional precision we have created a monstrous bogey which is used to justify the militarization of the state, the centralization of coercive authority, the proliferation of bureaucracy, the trampling of human rights, the severe curtailment of individual liberty and all this, paradoxically, has created conditions in which we all feel far more insecure than ever before.

There is a complete perversion of values involved here. The security of citizens is conflated with the security of the state , the state apparatus and those who control the state apparatus. The sovereignty of the people is conflated with the sovereignty of the state and its territorial integrity. Security is conflated with public order and democracy  and the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms  are seen as threats to achieving that order. So instead of ensuring that people feel secure in exercising their rights and enjoying their freedoms, we ensure that they sacrifice it at the altar of ‘security’ and that this sacrifice is seen as being in their own interests. Security , instead of being a means to achieve certain ends becomes an end in itself and no one knows what that end is. When and where have we reached that somewhere which can be said to be the destination for perfect security? An isolation ward in Tihar ? The jesting pilates of security will not stay for an answer.

The second set of perversions is achieved by the appropriation of security as a concern not of the public or the citizenry or the community but as a concern of a professional bureaucracy and the police or the military. They know better than we do what is good for our security. The citizen can question neither the arrogation of this power by the authorities nor the decisions taken ostensibly on his/her behalf. At its most benign it becomes a justification for a nanny state which takes away from a citizen the most fundamental of his fundamental rights and at its most malevolent, a justification for indescribable brutality and repression.

A perfect example of how treating ‘security’ as a stand alone concern can completely distort policy and practice is the case of Punjab my karmabhumi for a major part of my career. The surge of  extremist militancy that took place in  the decade of the eighties and a part of the early nineties meant that Punjab was kept under President’s rule throughout this period in the belief that the ‘security’ situation needed to be brought under control before normal democratic functioning could be resumed. The Police was given, not just a free hand to be as ruthless as they deemed necessary but also sweeping powers under special laws which provided legitimacy to their excesses. Human rights were suspended pending the restoration of order. ‘Supercops’ were imported and given the licence to kill if necessary. For ten years their sway was absolute. Each surge in militant insurgency was met with more ruthless repression and every such response was countered by an escalation of violence on the part of militants. To cut a long story short, it was not until democratic rule was restored in 1991 and an elected political executive put in place that the people turned away from violence, stopped providing sustenance to the militants and thereby enabled police action to become effective. So democracy is a precondition to peace and normalcy and order and not the other way round.

Any discussion of ‘public security’ must therefore be placed in the context of societal objectives and how conditions can be created in which people exercise their fundamental rights freely and without fear, in which they actively participate in the democratic decision making process, in which they are enabled to access the means to advance their social and economic well being and the means to realize their creative potential. If these conditions are not fulfilled or threats to the achievement of these conditions not substantially reduced then that constitutes a failure of security.

The achievement of these conditions is the basic purpose of governance in any democracy and keeping public order a means to achieve those purposes. Public order cannot be an end in itself. By elevating public order to a value by itself and then conflating it with the notion of ‘security’ we have turned governance upside down. The primacy of the basic values of democracy have therefore to be restored before issues of public security can be addressed. Not the other way round.

It is in this context that we have to locate the discourse on public security within the discourse on federalism. We often forget that federalism  is not just a power  sharing arrangement but has a deeper  threefold purpose- making diversity an organising principle of governance, deepening democracy by reducing distance between the people and government and protecting and nurturing individual liberty against the tyranny of the big state. So by federalism I mean not just a mechanical separation of powers between two orders of government, hierarchically arranged, but a means of creating an architecture in which governance is devolved to the smallest possible, viable unit following the concept of subsidiarity.

Viewed from such a prism public security has to be treated as one aspect of devolved and decentralised governance. This is completely at variance with the existing approach where federal devolution is seen as a hindrance or a constraint to achieving ‘security’. The argument offered is that since most threats to security operate at national or global levels these need to be tackled at the national levels both on account of capacity constraints at provincial or local levels as well as the need for centralized coordination. This is a specious argument because by that logic, taking terrorism as an  example, it can be argued  that since terrorist organizations do  not respect national boundaries and operate as a global network, it can only be tackled by a specialized global agency centred in the US of A.

We forget that almost all  public issues operate simultaneously at all levels and the impact at each level is different and specific to that local context. Unless these problems are  understood in terms of their specificity and tackled at that level, by the people who face that problem and unless those people have a controlling say in  the way in which the problems are tackled, we will suffer the same fate that the people of J&K for example are suffering from- a complete collapse of governance.

I would have  had much to say on how we can rethink the architecture of governance to make it at once more federal, devolved, decentralized, coordinated and networked and how resources can be pooled through innovative intergovernmental partnerships and collaboration , but that discussion will have to await another forum, another venue. Suffice it to say that public security and public order has to be subordinated to democracy and not the other way round.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Modi reconstructed through foreign eyes.

The westernised Indian elite has long known that their reputations as intellectuals, scholars, creative artists, management  moghuls have first to be established with foreigners before they are presented to Indians. International recognition must precede the testing of Indian waters. One always thought that this trick was the preserve of that threatened species called the Nehruvian elite which had guaranteed access to Oxford or Cambridge or the Ivy League  Universities or the Art Academies of France. One certainly did not expect a home grown, self made, Hindu nationalist to cotton on so quickly  to the extraordinary impact an international image can have on one’s national constituency.

What else explains the stark contrast between our Prime Minister’s cautious, fumbling, almost lack lustre, moves on the domestic front with the flurry of initiatives on the foreign policy front - some of which genuinely take your breath away ?

On the domestic front it seems that the inevitability of incrementalism has been accepted as a strategic response, a one tentative step forward and a half step backward. The choice of  Ministers (with exceptions) in the Council of Ministers was largely uninspiring. In some cases there seemed to be no particular logic to justify either the incumbent’s selection or the portfolio allocated. The much touted ‘minimum government maximum governance’ seemed to have stopped with a very half hearted regrouping and reclustering of some departments. The attempts to get politically appointed Governors to leave with the Home Secretary dropping threats was clumsy and ham handed. The leaking of the report on NGOs and their alleged adverse impact on economic growth showed predictable lack of intelligence from the oxymoronically named Intelligence Bureau.  The Gopal Subrahmanyam Affair showed flat footedness and pettiness. The Delhi University brouhaha was unimaginatively handled and the famed communication skills of the HRD Minister seemed sorely wanting. The Rail Budget was competent and forward looking but hardly set  anyone  or anything on fire and certainly did not seem to be the forerunner of a bold new vision. The Budget was a great dampener- a confused hash of  measures,  completely bereft of an overarching vision of economic transformation that one had come to expect from  Narendra Modi.

Contrast this with his initiatives on the foreign policy front. The invitation to the  neighbouring Heads of Government and in particular to  Nawaz Sharif to the swearing in ceremony was a gesture of pure inspiration. It signalled a willingness to bat off the front foot in a way that even Vajpayee had been hesitant to. Not since Sachin hit that famous six off Shoaib in the World Cup 2003  had there been a stroke in India Pak relations which sent such a frisson of excitement across the subcontinent. When everyone expected  tired lines of   ‘unless the terror infrastructure is dismantled….’ variety  being repeated ( albeit in  a more thunderous voice than that of his predecessor) Modi was vowing the world with the vocabulary of peace, friendship and free trade and commerce. In one stroke and in a single day, Modi registered his arrival on the international stage as the tallest leader in the region who will henceforth set both the agenda and the pace of mutual  relations among South Asian nations.
This was followed quickly by another masterstroke- that of singling out Bhutan for his first international visit as a Head of Government. It made a small, proud nation which must always have felt like a Lilliputian among giants, feel special  and simultaneously  sent a signal to the other small states that smallness of size would  not  henceforth, diminish their strategic importance and that they need not fear the big brother. It also signalled his deeper understanding of cultural and civilizational ties within South  Asia and  sent a clear message that he saw South Asian Regional cooperation as central to his international strategy. That he saw SARC as far more important than his predecessors ever did,  was eloquently confirmed with yet another stroke of genius- the call for India to launch a SARC satellite which will allow a cooperative, participative use of peaceful space technologies.

As if all this excitement was not enough for the first fifty days we have had the Brics Summit, the Brics Bank creation agreement, the meetings with Xin and Putin, a  cascading waterfall of events seemingly designed to construct a new, modern, internationalist Modi who appears as though born to the Manor. Gone is the awkwardness of a provincial leader, inexperienced in the ways and mores of international diplomacy. It has been replaced by a man wearing beautifully cut ‘Bund Gulla’ suits, with a confident stride, a firm handshake, a straight look in the eyes and the silken cadences of a statesman.

Aspirational  India has always tried to view itself through its perceptions of the foreigners’ perceptions of India and Indians. What the foreigners say or feel about us matters much more than what we ourselves may feel or see. So if now the Putins and the Obamas and the Xins and the Rouseffs and the Zumas and the Merkals see Modi in a new light  will we too not forget all those bad Karmas of 2002 and hail a new incarnation?