2019 is ending on a sombre note — the economy is in a shambles and the nation is polarised as never before. The Modi-Shah duo must discard its Hindutva projects for a better year ahead
Looking back at 2019, the defining image of the year captured by The Indian Express was on its front page, ironically on Vijay Divas, of the Delhi Police brandishing thick wooden rods against hijab-clad students trying to protect a male student outside the Jamia Millia Islamia university. The picture brought back to memory iconic images of Qutubuddin Ansari pleading for mercy with a sword-wielding Ashok Mochi alongside during the Godhra riots. The month of December saw a tsunami of protests over the utterly hasty and misguided Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The lid on the pressure cooker blew off following a history of lynchings, negation of Article 370 and the reduction of Jammu & Kashmir to a Union Territory, the passage of the triple talaq Bill, the victory at Ayodhya — all targetting Muslims — concurrent with the youth’s anger over joblessness and a plummeting economy.
Even as more than 20 people were killed across the country during anti-CAA protests and riots, neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor Home Minister Amit Shah uttered a word on the offending CAA. Instead, Modi waxed eloquent over India aspiring to become a $5 trillion economy. Earlier, Shah had said, “You can keep protesting…CAA-NRC will be implemented.” Insensitively, Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the State which became the fulcrum of protests and maximum casualties, tweeted: “We will take revenge.” In pursuing religious agenda, the Government is hurting the social fabric of the country, which could lead to serious fissures in internal security that can diminish national security in turn.
In February, the Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted surgical strikes, claiming without any convincing evidence, that nearly 300 Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists were killed in Balakot. The mere fact that the IAF had entered the Pakistani air space and bombed Balakot was commendable. But the Government milked the Balakot strikes to win the 2019 elections, like it had utilised the Uri surgical strikes of 2016 to win several State elections. The Government fought the federal elections over national security, nationalism, Pakistan-bashing and deifying the soldier when the reality on defence and national security is otherwise: Absence of institutional defence reforms and scant attention to military modernisation due to negligible funding, complex arms procurement procedures and an ill-though concept of “Make in India.” To the Government’s credit are the construction of the National War Memorial and the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), another box it will tick in its election manifesto. Whether or not a CDS will better the uneasy civil-military relations and streamline defence planning, decision-making and defence preparedness is yet to be known. Only additional defence reforms and budgets can ensure the same.
Kashmir has been in lockdown for five months now without internet, restricted access to cellphones, the entire political leadership is under detention and there’s a silent civil disobedience movement. Digital India will soon bag the “world internet shutdown prize.” In 2018, it claimed records in highest frequency, longest duration and 68 per cent of the world’s shutdowns. The shutdown and lockdown have cost the State Rs 20,000 crore. Former State Jammu & Kashmir’s downgradation to a Union Territory is held together by an overwhelming presence of security forces, who will feel the heat when an alienated Kashmir reawakens from its hurt and anguish.
New Delhi is crafting new laws to alter the electoral arithmetic in Jammu & Kashmir so that Muslim-majority Kashmir does not call the shots in the re-engineered Union Territory. The Army, which is now permanently in aid to the civil authority in the former State, will probably spend another generation holding it together following the missteps of abrogating Article 370 and 35 A and the reorganisation of the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, which are all under judicial scrutiny.
The fear of CAA in National Register of Citizens (NRC)-implemented BJP-ruled Assam and the consternation and protests that have followed in the North-east have rekindled the ghosts of the past. After suffering from the ravages of insurgencies, the North-east, except Manipur and now Assam, has been peaceful. The Nagaland Peace Accord of 2015 was scheduled to be sealed and signed on December 11 at Kohima in a full and final settlement of the Naga political question, marking a closure to the mother of all insurgencies.
This did not happen probably for two reasons: The protests in the North-east prevented Prime Minister Modi from travelling to Kohima; or contrary to claims, NSCN (IM) was not ready to sign the final agreement because of its demands for a separate flag and Constitution, two State symbols taken away from Jammu & Kashmir. NSCN(IM) has the potential to fish-in troubled waters in the North-east. Even without its messing around, the North-east will remain politically disturbed. It is strategic absurdity to keep two frontier States in unrest and dissonance.
On CAA, India has ruffled feathers of abiding friends in the neighbourhood, especially Bangladesh. EU countries, the US and human rights bodies have pointed fingers over religious distinctions made in India and human rights violations in locked-down Kashmir. India’s foreign policy orientation has visibly shifted from non-alignment to issue-based multi-alignment, maintaining strategic autonomy. Focus on “Neighbourhood First” and “Act East” has dissipated to the nebulous Indo-Pacific in a bid to contain China rather than concentrating on the Indian Ocean Region.
The postponed 22nd round of India-China border talks were not held in Agra as planned but in New Delhi due to CAA protests, which also took down India-Japan talks. Since the boundary question has been off the table for some time, the Wang Yi-Doval dialogue is more about maintaining peace and tranquillity on the border, based on the Wuhan strategic guidelines. Mandarins in South Bloc have pretended that Pakistan does not exist in the neighbourhood but its reckless Pakistan- bashing has willy-nilly re-hyphenated India with Pakistan.
The CAA has brought the identity issue at the centrestage. The Army was called into Assam and Tripura for flag marches. Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat and Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Anil Chauhan endorsing the Government’s hard policy decisions was beyond their remit.
The military is one institution that has remained apolitical, professional and secular. The lessons from Blue Star in Golden Temple and the demolition of Ayodhya are not forgotten. The Army has sizeable number of Muslims, who have proved their loyalty to the tricolour. It is motivated by regimental and generational loyalties, derived from izzat, dastur and iqbal (honour, tradition and welfare). Nationalism is only a later addition.
This last column of 2019 ends with a somber signal. The economy is in a shambles and the country is polarised as never before. On the external security front, India faces a two-front situation. The Government’s partisan agenda has created two internal security situations in Kashmir and the North-east. Looking ahead, one hopes Modi and Shah will act like Vajpayee and Advani and discard their Hindutva projects to usher in a happier 2020.
(Writer: Ashok K Mehta; Courtesy: The Pioneer)