A global coalition has unleashed a campaign to overthrow the elected government of Narendra Modi and prominent academics privately hint at the need for his removal by any means. These luminaries include some of the most celebrated Indian-origin academics in the world’s leading institutions, one of whom once proposed the ceding of J&K to Pakistan in the presence of the bureaucrat who went on to become India’s Prime Minister.
Two outwardly minor events are likely to become the prophetic symbols of the crisis of the Indian Union. The first is the refusal to the Jharkhand government to provide manpower to assist military preparations while India is facing a potentially serious military challenge from China. The second is the disturbing web film series maligning the armed forces’ families in a dismaying way that must be deeply demoralising for them. These two events dramatically highlight the depth of the rot that is now dogging the nation. These are issues on which the Central government needed to react with decisive proscriptions, but is quite unable to do so because the nation’s Constitution and its courts were not devised to deal with any mortal crisis threatening the nation. They articulate instead juvenile liberal hopes rather than a realistic grasp of history. As a result, the singular critical barometer of the nation’s wellbeing and intrinsic viability, the enduring integrity of the federal Centre of India, must be in some doubt.
India was ruled by an intellectually facetious and politically shallow administration after Independence until the departure of its first Prime Minister. Jawaharlal Nehru totally failed to initiate the complex and urgent task of nation building, presiding instead over serial geopolitical catastrophes and the onset of economic stasis. The innate divisions of the nation surfaced shortly afterwards, hastened by the lust for power of his daughter, who promptly dismantled the remaining vestiges of a national party and worsened the mounting economic paralysis. Indira Gandhi then proceeded to instigate the divisive politics of caste and religion on a major scale by promoting constituencies she hoped would underpin her rule, the Scheduled Castes and Muslims. The enervating Bangladesh war and deteriorating world economic conditions only compounded the nation’s economic difficulties and political divisions. A fractious politics that India’s federal system of government was guaranteed to create was duly galvanised, as populism became routine, fuelled by regionalism. The architects of India’s Constitution had failed to understand that a large and diverse country was more likely to remain united if it collectively voted to elect a President, with whatever devolution of powers appropriate to ensure participatory democracy and administrative efficiency.
More than two decades of lacklustre government and poor economic performance persisted in the 1970s and 1980s despite some half-hearted efforts at reform until crisis forced the hand of the government in 1991. It allowed momentary room for manoeuvre to change course, though not quite as radically as commentators have since imagined. A period of political uncertainty and ineffectual government followed, succeeded by a brief moment of respite in 1999. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP coalition came to power and further reforms were attempted again. India became a nuclear power, a road infrastructure of significance was established, reforms of the beleaguered power sector were implemented and some privatisation had begun. It was to be rudely interrupted by an irascible electorate upset by rising onion prices just before the elections. The electorate’s irrational anger brought a decade of malpractice and ruination that would have likely broken the back of the nation had it lasted for another term. The successor government of Narendra Modi ended consensus politics and sought to change direction, unsettling a vast retinue of illegitimate beneficiaries, who had become profitably ensconced within society during the preceding era. It has produced the inevitable backlash and on a scale that is threatening the very survival of the Indian Union. The erstwhile beneficiaries of loot, in the name of socialism, have begun a no-holds-barred crusade to unseat the incumbent regime at any cost.
GLOBAL CAMPAIGN AGAINST
A global coalition has unleashed a campaign to overthrow the elected government of Narendra Modi and prominent academics privately hint at the need for his removal, along with Home Minister, Amit Shah, by any means. These luminaries include some of the most celebrated Indian-origin academics in the world’s leading institutions, one of whom once proposed the ceding of J&K to Pakistan in the presence of the bureaucrat who went on to become India’s Prime Minister. The same academic advised the government of Tony Blair in London to refuse engagement with the Vajpayee administration after the 1998 nuclear tests. Some of these individuals are indubitably engaged with foreign security services of hostile countries and conspire with their arms-length intelligence operations through media assets in New York, Washington and London. Unfortunately, the narrative on India is completely beyond the sway of the Indian authorities and their official and unofficial spokespersons. The latter apparently have neither the intellectual skills to prevail in the deadly contest of fabricated insinuation nor the political will or means to gain access to major media outlets abroad. There can be no starker instance of the dismal situation than their total inability to refute the outrageous portrayal of India’s humane CAA legislation as discriminatory and unjust. The shocking intellectual nullity and illiteracy of the putative nationalist agents deputed abroad, many of them, it is suspected, compromised with foreign governments as well, is a cause for utter dismay.
Contemporary India has far greater resources and economic resilience than it has had in many centuries, with domestic manufacturing capacity much improved and foreign exchange resources that provide a degree of safeguard from unexpected crisis. But these parameters must only be judged in relative terms, in comparison to its adversaries, especially in the region. On such a proportional scale, India remains extremely vulnerable and only able to contemplate honourable defeat in the event of outright war because its military, productive and financial capacity will be outmatched, in the region, within months by China alone. In addition, other determined neighbours are waging war daily against India that will become a compelling challenge in the event of a serious encounter with the militarised northern rival that displays all the textbook socio-economic and political attributes of classic fascism. Yet it is this neighbour to whom many Indians swear loyalty and wish victory in a clash with their own country, giving alarming meaning to the term Quisling. In this context, the evident opposition of the government of Jharkhand to facilitate the defence of India on patently false grounds, accompanied by the ominous spectacle of belligerent ruling political party spokespersons screaming abuse on TV, underlines the depth of India’s domestic schisms. And it is supplemented by a criminal non-entity trying to demoralise India’s armed forces, while it confronts a potential war at the border, by horrific libelling of the wives of soldiers who are being expected to lay down their lives to defend the country.
The critical issue that will determine the survival of a united India is the degree of cohesion of India’s regional states, but what might now be described as the Jharkhand syndrome, has the deepest roots within the country since Independence. It is a question of whether or not the writ of the federal Centre runs across every corner of India and is enforceable in the event of a crisis, especially war. That is no longer certain, with the political Centre regarded as illegitimate by a whole swathe of the country. The federal Centre has for long only enjoyed nominal authority in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir and is in constant negotiation with Assam to prevent a grievous socio-political disjuncture. The incumbent political dispensation in Delhi has very little authority over Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, the first two in the thrall of neo-Christian political parties, with the succour of Islamist allies and the same has long been true in Kerala for many decades. The DMK’s claimed secular rejection of belief has always been a cover for quasi-Christian political loyalties and Andhra Pradesh has essentially been ceded to evangelists in the past two decades. An evangelist political movement now enjoys total electoral preponderance in Andhra Pradesh. It has established a politically durable presence in alliance with an Islamist vote bank in the state and is brazenly subverting one of the world’s greatest of Hindu temples by usurping its historic assets. A similar situation of Islamic primacy prevails in West Bengal, with the Muslim vote bank loyal to Mamata Banerjee only needing an addition 12% of the vote to achieve resounding electoral victory, which accounts for her belligerent self-confidence.
The long-expected spectre of West Bengal’s separatism has also reared its ugly head, with a vindictive movement of counterfeit cultural identity sponsored by its dominant political party in recent days. The incumbent state government also disavows Central authority repeatedly and harbours foreign nationals and shields terrorists. Elsewhere, the dangerous volatility and capriciousness of India’s political loyalties have also been nakedly exposed, with the avowedly nationalist political party of Maharashtra collaborating openly with jihadi elements. More worryingly, the highest Sikh spiritual authority has claimed that most in his community aspire to create an independent state of Khalistan despite the extraordinarily negative implications for it of attempting to bowdlerize the whole of northern India. Yet, the most shocking spectacle of all, in recent memory, has been the Central government’s loss of political and physical control over the capital to foreign-backed jihadis. They enjoyed carte blanche to operate bomb factories as well as torture and murder an officer of the federal state investigating them. It may well be suspected that Delhi politics is deeply infiltrated by Pakistan’s ISI and voters were indifferent, provided transportation was free for women and electricity and water supplies subsidised.
The circumstances of the collapse of the greatest empires should haunt the complacent who govern India. Its short-sighted bureaucrats, unaware of the outside world and history, issued thousands of visas to jihadis and foreign intelligence operatives to enter India, in the guise of evangelists. They were then allowed to run amok, promoting loyalty to adversarial countries, by establishing religious battlements in the shape of truculent enclaves. One is reminded of the collapse of the once mighty Sassanians, the Byzantines and indeed Bharat itself to Islamic armies in the aftermath of catastrophic political and strategic errors of judgement. All three were powerful long-standing empires that fell to tribal intruders, motivated by faith, temptations of loot and superior military skills. The Sassanians and Byzantines effectively destroyed each other through incessant warfare in the early seventh century, both falling with remarkable speed to invading Arab tribes. Nor could the once powerful Gurjara-Pratiharas, grievously weakened by incessant warfare with the Rashtrakutas and Palas, withstand assault by Ghaznavid armies.
A general weakening Mughal imperial authority and cross-cutting political cleavages across India also allowed the devastating invasion of Nadir Shah in 1739 and subsequent marauding ravages by his former personal attendant and later commandant of the Abdali regiment, Ahmad Shah Abdali. His final cataclysmic victory over the Marathas at Panipat in 1761 was virtually contemporaneous with the onset of the eventual conquest of India by the East India Company, Bengal succumbing first. By the mid-19th century, it had overcome the Marathas and Sikhs, the company’s victorious onslaught facilitated by serial treachery. In retrospect, it is worth noting that the most sobering phenomenon associated with the historic demise of the Sassanians and Byzantines was the revolt of their own imperial subjects and treasonous defection to the enemy once central authority in the empire weakened, precipitating their collapse. A similar absorption of Hindu levies by Turkic rulers had also occurred earlier in the eleventh century. The ancient civilisation of the Sassanians disappeared totally within two decades and the Christian kingdoms of North Africa and West Asia were also erased though fragments of the latter are finally being destroyed in the second decade of the twenty first century. The bells now potentially toll for Hindu civilisation. It is apparently in retreat once again, across a wide expanse of territory in the south and east of India with secession threatened in the north as well, within 70 years of gaining political sovereignty.
ASCENDANCY OF FEDERAL CENTRE MUST
If India is not to face a calamity of incalculable proportions in the near future, strategic planning by state agencies needs to occur on a war footing. The security apparatus for domestic policing needs to be reinforced on a substantial scale, with even greater emphasis on intelligence gathering and ruthless interdiction of foreign agents at large. The paramount task is the strengthening of federal state structures and Herculean efforts to assure its political and constitutional legitimacy are especially required. While much of the country is apparently turning separatist, brainwashed by India’s adversaries, the ruling dispensation must consolidate its political hold over its own home ground, i.e. the states it already dominates. Of course, it must also expand its influence where possible, for example, in West Bengal, which has shown signs of a renewed nationalist awakening. However, current efforts being made to deepen national consciousness in it cannot be judged adequate. By contrast, the performance of the government of UP is a cause for hope. It might be anticipated that this important state will support the nationalist and good governance policies of Modi and Adityanath, instead of being seduced by the caste politics of parties that collaborate with terrorists.
The political ascendancy of the federal Centre is an absolute prerequisite for overcoming a default impulse of constitutional and legal niceties that apparently prefers to perpetuate assumed established conventions on the separation of powers, even if India suffers setback in time of war as a result. And the primacy of public interest litigation now ensures foreign-funded factotums will browbeat the courts to prevent contrary national purposes by protesting human rights and democracy. Yet the fundamental repudiation of democracy and elected government by the illegal and thoroughly communal Shaheen Bagh disorder was supported by a vast swathe of India’s ostensible intelligentsia and its critics, barely attracting decisive court censure. In this context, it is vitally important to recognise the importance of the integrity of the federal Centre at Delhi for the survival of the Indian Union. Illuminating relatively recent historic analogies are provided by the survival of Soviet Russia during WW II despite suffering serial losses on unimaginable magnitude of men and material in the battlefield and chaotic production conditions for war material, notwithstanding mythologies to the contrary, and eventually winning the war. The Soviet regime, dominated by Joseph Stalin, remained intact as Tsar Alexander I had also done in 1812, successfully repulsing Napoleon’s Grande Armee, unlike his successor Nicholas II, whose government collapsed, ensuring Russia’s defeat in WWI.
As an aside, one may conclude with a tangential issue that puzzles, which is the disinclination of the Modi government to revise school textbooks and curriculum that routinely propagate dangerous divisive sentiments. This is a perilous vexation that than can reversed within five years by assiduous efforts to rewrite basic textbooks. It is surely an urgent necessity to instil a sense of nationhood through enlightened education, so long denied to avoid unsettling alleged minority sentiments against celebration of India’s history and achievements. One other issue that might have been considered urgently is the freeing of temples from government control, with due safeguards to ensure probity and administrative efficiency. The initiation of such a socio-cultural dynamic is guaranteed to prompt a national awakening and cultural pride. It would combat the politics of division, cultivated by India’s adversaries through evangelists, jihadis and their malevolent proxies within Indian society. It is alarming how profoundly India’s future depends on the survival and success of the regime of Narendra Modi circumstance has bequeathed to India at this momentous historic juncture.
Dr Gautam Sen taught international political economy for more than two decades at the London School of Economics and Political Science.