Opinions

India — The coming anarchy

The title borrows Robert Kaplan’s perspicacious title from his famous 1994 essay on the unraveling then occurring across Africa. Published in February, by April it stood justified with the start of the 100 day long genocide in Rwanda. Understandably then, if ‘India’ also figures in the title here there would be incredulity all round.

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But then the commentary at Republic Day from those who know best is on a somber note. A historian compares the times to three other challenges the Republic faced up to in its life so far. A noted columnist informs of speculation abroad that ‘India is in worse shape than ever before’. A noted political scientist ends his Republic Day reflections that a recoupling between democracy and the State is prerequisite, ‘And only then, will the Republic survive.’

Here the difference is in sticking the neck out to claim and defend the claim that there is anarchy both aboard and ahead. This is going a step further than the prime minister who in a recent straight-from-the-heart talk referred to the distaste of youth for anarchy. Speaking presumably in the context of the troubles in universities, he said, ‘The youth in India likes to follow the system. They question the system when it does not work and don't like anarchy as they question the loopholes in the system. What today's youth dislikes is instability, chaos, nepotism.’

The prime minister was referring to episodic eclipse of law and order when people who can be easily ‘recognized by the dress they wear’ take to arson. As if on cue, almost immediately on his observing the link at a campaign rally in Jharkhand, some miscreants as per the lapdog media burnt buses 1000 km away in Delhi. Since ‘instability’ and ‘chaos’ this signified needed nipping in the bud, lathis were rained on students at a nearby university campus’ library by uninvited forces of law and order. 

The home minister also makes reference on occasion to the proverbial tukde-tukde gang, ‘proverbial’ because a right to information query of his ministry yielded the result that the ministry was unacquainted with any such gang. Nevertheless, the gang got its comeuppance when right-wing goons were released on their university campus for some three hours with the police helpfully standing by, no doubt on orders of an as yet indeterminate superior authority.

According to the Delhi police investigating officer and the first information report lodged in relation to the events, the 16 stitches to one left-wing female student leader’s head bespeak of who initiated the violence in the first place. The narrative then becomes one of right wing - if over-the-top – retaliation. In this reading, initiators need to listen to the President of the Republic who in his Republic Day eve address cautioned that those protesting must remain non-violent. This is cover for the State’s action so far and impending action in places of affront, such as Shaheen Bagh.

To some the title may not be going all that far, even under the circumstance, given the outrage over the sentiment voiced by an agitated Muslim student leader on an ability to cut off the North East from mainland India. This is just the fear-mongering fashionable in the strategic community aghast at the Muslim numbers residing in the Chicken’s Neck – the thin slip of land connecting the rest of India with its North East.

In fact the genesis of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is in their crystal-ball gazing going back over two decades on the proliferation of Muslims in sensitive areas, as the North East and Assam in particular. The first salvo was fired by a saffron-tainted general from his perch as governor in Assam, pointing to “illegal immigrants” in an official missive to the home ministry. He then went on to stir up the pot in Jammu and Kashmir, upturning the quietude of the mid-2000s there with his mischievous decision to hand over Kashmiri land to a Hindu religious pilgrimage organisation. The decision presaged the turning over of Kashmiri lands to the Union today.

The common thread between the two strategic spots is Muslim presence. Muslimness is a red flag in the mind’s eye of some busybodies in the strategic community. One notable character, Praveen Swami, stepped up sprightly in warning against seeing anything more than the lure of pelf in the curious case of the soon-to-be Superintendent of Police, Devender Singh. This was to distract attention from the under-investigated role of the officer in the Parliament attack case. Such under-investigated cases litter the national scene since: the supposed jihadi plot to ‘get Modi’ in Gujarat; the Inspector General SM Mushrif revealed chinks in the cut and dried popular narrative of 26/11, though the SIM cards were apparently planted on the plotters by a Kashmir Police officer; the terror threat in the Indian hinterland, despite Hindutva fingerprints all over it.

The subversion of democracy that resulted from the national security herding of the majority into the waiting arms of the right-wing is the ‘first cause’ in the break down in the rule of law. The argument here is that the coming anarchy is not from a threat to ‘law and order’ as the Dynamic Duo – the prime minister and home minister – have it, as much as from a break down in ‘rule of law’.

That rule of law is now in tatters is stark. The Center-controlled Delhi Police action in Jamia Millia Islamia and inaction in Jawaharlal Nehru University requires no expansion. The acts of omission and commission of the Uttar Pradesh police under a chief minister originally nominated by the Dynamic Duo in repressing the anti-CAA protests are all over social media. Its cooption of auxiliaries in plain clothes to provoke protestors so as to justify a violent crackdown is now well known. The torture of a woman Muslim activist under a barrage of communal slurs at a Lucknow police station shows up the break down in the rule of law. The willful demolition of slums housing supposed “infiltrators” in Karnataka and the high-handedness of the Mangalore police show the imprint of anarchy has expanded from Gangetic confines.

The hurry to have the National Investigative Agency (NIA) take over the Devender Singh case and the Bhima Koregaon cases is further testimony. Outdoing its sister agency that has earned the epithet ‘caged parrot’ over long years of prostration, the NIA in its short time of existence is well on its way to being the ‘caged squawkzilla’, a parrot discovered in New Zealand as the largest of its species that ever lived some 19 million years ago. More significant is the damage by the higher judiciary to rule of law in their questionable judgment in the Ayodhya case; their procrastination in the case of restoring freedoms to Kashmiris; and their unwillingness to stay the CAA and the constitutional affront over Article 370.

The personalization of power and authority is now virtually complete. The military – that was the last bastion – has seen political general Bipin Rawat elevated to overall in-charge, as chief of defence staff. Rawat is known to be beholden to the national security czar, Ajit Doval, who in retrospect can be said to have led the intelligence community rightwards and informally headed the deep state. The Bumbler’s – to coin an apt description for the general - latest political intervention was in bad mouthing the (non-existent) anti-CAA protest leadership in order to clinch his promotion into history.

While the new army chief’s quoting of the Constitution on taking over was encouraging, his praise of the Kashmir make over as historic gives pause. It shows that the military has not quite understood what staying out of politics implies. If the army chief was of the opinion that Shah’s Kashmir initiative was a blunder, would he have been so voluble? If not, then apolitical propriety requires him not to publicly backstop Shah either.

By all accounts, the economy that enabled the majority turning a blind eye to the right-wing’s supremacist agenda is now on downslide. Some Hindu voters have broken ranks by joining anti-CAA frontlines. This is troubling, since polarization appears to have lost its sheen. The Kashmir Police’s timely arrest of Devender Singh’s and preemption of the ‘game’ he referred to on his arrest is a case to point. 

A worsening economy; peeling away of blinkers off voters; dissonance in potential instruments of repression; the first instance of collective Muslim backlash in a generation; and inability to manage the narrative externally, depicted most recently on the cover of the Economist; all portend possible panic at Lok Kalyan Marg. The trump cards held – a temple at Ayodhya and a sparkling new façade to the national capital’s town centre - are too far to reassure.

So, expect further departures from rule of law – with both prospective successors, Shah and Yogi, emulating their leader Modi in his rise from Gujarat to national stature. To Chanakya II, Ajit Doval, who make up the Terrific Trio - then the breakdowns in law and order will be used to paper over the breakdown in rule of law. The two breakdowns forming a closed-loop constitutes the coming anarchy.