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Total prohibition of alcohol as a state policy always ends in disaster

Enforcing prohibition citing moral and health reasons has more downsides than benefits and invariably ends in disaster where the state has to reverse its decision

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

State enforced prohibition of alcohol can never succeed. Total prohibition is an unmitigated failure. In the current season of electioneering in various states across India, there seems to be a mad race between the political parties to list prohibition as one of their election promises. Take the case of Tamil Nadu which is heading for assembly polls next month. Without exception, all the political parties have committed to prohibition—be it Jayalalithaa of AIADMK, Karunanidhi of DMK or S. Ramadoss of PMK. Of all the leaders, only Jayalalithaa has spoken about graded prohibition.  Vaiko did a dramatic act by asking his aged mother to force shutdown of liquor shops in his native village of Kalingapatti in Tirunalveli in August 2015.

The Kerala government, headed by the Chief Minister Oommen Chandy enforced a ban on alcohol in 2014 except five star hotels. This ban was upheld by the Supreme Court in December 2015.  The CM has promised that he will move towards total prohibition for ten years irrespective of election outcome. Kerala too is having assembly elections in May. Bihar has commenced a two-step plan, with a ban on country liquor effective from April 1, following days later with a prohibition on Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL). This was one of the election promises of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar when he went for Mahagathbandhan (MGB) in November 2015. The reasons that prohibition fails are not hard to fathom. The argument is counter intuitive. One of the best examples where total prohibition failed is the United States of America.

United States enforced prohibition across its 48 states after a lot of deliberation in 1917.  It was repealed after 16 years. The evidence gathered between the period 1920-33 was overwhelming. It was during this period that the true horrors of alcohol were discovered. Alcohol remained available during prohibition. The only difference was that it went underground—black market. People who wanted to drink would invariably find a way to black market where they paid exorbitant prices. The use of methyl alcohol for preparation instead of ethyl alcohol (because methyl alcohol is cheaper) lead to blindness or even death. Mafias thrived on bootlegging businesses. Remember the movie The Untouchables where Robert De Niro plays the dreaded gangster Al Capone. Such was Capone’s clout due to his spurious liquor business that when the long arm of the law finally caught him, he was charged mainly for tax evasion. During this period, use of other drugs also increased. Marijuana, a drug previously used little in the US became popular. Consumption of coffee rose. Ultimately, there was unanimity of political opinion in 1933 to repeal prohibition. So much so that today when one talks of prohibition in the US, he is not taken seriously at all.

In India, political parties resort to the populism of prohibition mainly deriving their legitimacy from the Directive Principles of State Policy. A sense of pseudo morality pervades across the political spectrum on the issue of alcohol consumption.  Advocates of prohibition cite reasons such as alcoholism, indebtedness and intimate partner violence (IPV). But banning alcohol is never an effective check against its use. The case of Maharashtra is classic. Prohibition, which was enforced in the then state of Bombay in 1949 was lifted in 1972. Bootlegging thrived and organised crime in the form of Bombay underworld took over alcohol distribution. There were striking parallels to the US in 1920s era of prohibition. It was doomed to fail in Maharashtra because the neighbouring states did not have prohibition and alcohol could always be smuggled.

In addition, prohibition robs the state of an important source of revenue. In 2015-16, nearly 25 percent of Tamil Nadu government revenue amounting to almost Rs 30,000 crore came from liquor sales. In Maharashtra, the comparative figure stands at Rs. 18,000 crore. These help successive governments to sustain the social welfare schemes. In Tamil Nadu, the government has used the revenues from alcohol sales to distribute consumer goods to the poor, supply free rice to Below Poverty Line (BPL) card holders and the noon meal scheme. Finding alternative sources of revenue is a humungous task in the present times of fiscal consolidation. Anyway, the fact stands out that prohibition has never transformed a society.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image:Lame-No alcohol by Karl Baron, licensed from creativecommons.org



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Protests in Bangalore and Kashmir — Manifestation of Radically Networked Societies?

What most of the commentators have missed out during the recent protests in Kashmir and Bangalore is that the traditionally organised power structures are being challenged by radically networked societies and governments need to restructure better to respond

Two recent protests in the country demonstrated how radically networked societies (RNS) challenge the conventional, bureaucratic and hierarchical power structures. Last week, after a girl was allegedly molested by a soldier in Handwara, Kashmir saw a deluge of protests by the locals. The army later released a video in which the girl gave a statement exonerating the army. But the incident was enough to snowball into a major law and order problem in which police had to resort to firing on protesting mobs resulting in five dead and scores injured. It culminated in the dismantling of army bunkers after more than two decades.  In the second incident, violence erupted across Bangalore on April 18 and 19 by garment factory workers that left more than a hundred injured, two of them seriously.  A police station was attacked and vehicles were set on fire. Reportedly, this was a reaction to amendment to Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) by the central government as part of its budget announcement for 2016. The new norms barred employees from withdrawing their entire provident fund corpus before retirement. On April 19, the government announced a complete and unconditional rollback.

The striking feature of both the incidents is that they were leaderless. In Kashmir, mobs of protesters were assembled based on “news” circulated in WhatsApp groups.   The dismantling of bunkers has been seen as a victory for locals. But the government’s response was typical of bureaucratic knee-jerk reaction. In an order dated April 18, the Kashmir government has instructed all WhatsApp groups to register within ten days.  There were even government employees who were part of the groups. WhatsApp has emerged as a potent tool for gathering of protesters. The statement by Divisional Commissioner, Asgar Samoon reported in newspapers is produced as below:

There are many unauthorised news groups on WhatsApp that disseminate news. It’s not restricted to just chatting, they have thousands of followers who post news without verification and many times lead to law and order problems. Government employees are for implementation of policies, if they have grievances or suggestion they can be put forward through proper channel not in public forms. In many cases government employees were seen instigating violence.”

Even in Bangalore, the protests were first planned and circulated in WhatsApp groups among the garment industry workers.  Most of the protesters were women. About three and a half years ago, Bangalore had a similar incident concerning the migrant working population from northeastern part of India. In August 2012, more than 30,000 people left the city over rumours of impending attack on them.

According to my colleague Nitin Pai, corruption, economic distress, political oppression, and elite control of political power, among others have always been there. He goes on to add that the proliferation of public protests might be the first signs of clash between radically networked societies and hierarchically ordered states. This is true whether the polity is democratic or authoritarian.

In 2011 Arab Spring, protests spread like wildfire in Tahrir Square in Egypt and Tunisia that resulted in ousting of authoritarian political leaders. The onset of social media like facebook, twitter, whatsapp, Snapchat etc. have radically transformed the speed with which information is transmitted and processed. In many ways, this is the epitome of Marshall McLuhan’s ‘medium is the message’  theory.

Bangalore and Kashmir present a contrast and similarity. Contrast, because Bangalore city police is one of the most tech savvy forces in the country with an active twitter handle and social media presence. Kashmir police has not demonstrated such a capability. In addition, Kashmir has a heavy presence of other security forces like Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and army which have their own typically rigid hierarchical organisations. Similarity, because both got checkmated by very similar radical networks.

Responding to the RNS also entails a trade-off between liberty and national security. To what extent can personal freedoms and liberty can be contained is a matter to be seriously debated. Left purely to governments, they will only enact policies to strengthen the hand of the state, however draconian it may be. This will be an incremental tail chase in perpetuity. The latest order in Kashmir is evidence of this.

One reason the United States emerged on top of the world order is because it had the best political system for post-Enlightenment industrial age societies. It can be argued that the nation that best restructures itself for the information age will have a shot at being the next great superpower. Across the world, governments are grappling with this phenomenon. We certainly have a long way to go.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured Image: Network, licensed by creativecommons.org


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Why Pakistan might not head for a coup in the near future?

In spite of all the indications of severe cracks in the civil-military relations, Pakistan may not have a coup simply because the army does not want it in the near future

Grave scenarios are being visualised in the present tumultuous conditions in Pakistan. The catalysing event was the suicide bomb attack on March 26 at a crowded park in Lahore. Reportedly, Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter group of Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast. The blast left 69 people dead and 300 people injured. The Pakistani military and security agencies quickly swung into action by taking over the counter-terror operations even before PM Nawaz Sharif could finish an emergency meeting with his ministers. He had to even cancel a visit to Washington.

The tensions between the army chief General Raheel Sharif and the PM have been see-sawing since Nawaz Sharif got elected in 2013. There were allegations of rigging by Nawaz Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League, PML (N). Coupled with charges of corruption against his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is the chief minister of Punjab, public sentiments culminated in an Azadi (freedom) march, a series of marches from August to December 2014.  A Muslim cleric, Tahirul Qadri also gave active support to Imran Khan, whose party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) organised these protests. Though Imran Khan asked the Pakistan army to stay neutral, the protests could not have taken place without the tacit support of the military-jihadi complex (MJC), which has a finger in every pie. Tahirul Qadri can be considered to be one of the cogs in MJC. Though, Raheel Sharif supported Nawaz Sharif publicly, there were certain undercurrents in their relationship.

The Pakistan Army launched operation Zarb-e-Azb after in June 2014 after an attack on Karachi airport by the jihadist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This operation was aimed at all jihadist elements in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), whether foreign or native. A retaliation to this was the attack on army public school in Peshawar by TTP on December 16, 2014. The importance of this attack on the institutions is gauged from the fact that the army took on itself the task of running the courts dealing with terror operations. In a way, this showed a lack of confidence in the judicial process in Pakistan.

Zarb-e-Azb has been claimed as a great success with over 2500 militants killed in 2014 and had support of political parties and people. As a result, Raheel Sharif is hugely popular army chief. With success of counter terror operations along with control over the judicial process against militants, he is in a very comfortable position. Nawaz Sharif is having the tough task of taking the brickbats for whatever wrong is happening. Based on the current events and lessons from past history, three possible scenarios can be forecast for the next six months or so.

First, sensing the rising discontent against Nawaz Sharif and massive corruption in public life, the army stages a coup. Sharif is jailed/exiled to Saudi Arabia and martial law is established. Raheel Sharif appoints himself as President. Second, the army stages a soft coup by installing Imran Khan as a caretaker PM and continues to hold the levers of power. Third, the army does nothing to upset the present political set up and plays wait-and-watch game. Of all the three, the third scenario seems most plausible due to a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that Raheel Sharif would want to ‘hang his boots’ on a high. He wouldn’t do anything to dilute the goodwill that the army has gained over the last two years. He hinted the same in a recent interview where he categorically stated that he won’t seek another extension on his tenure. Second, the army is in the best position by consolidating its hold over the security and foreign policies of the country. An indication of this was the appointment of General Nasir Khan Janjua as the National Security Advisor (NSA) in October 2015. Therefore, with its stranglehold over crucial levers of security, foreign policy and judicial process for jihadists, the military is firmly ensconced. Raheel Sharif will retire with his reputation intact and pursue golf. Pakistan will meander through remaining 2016. Nawaz Sharif is probably aware of this and he will do everything to reinforce his power before the new army chief is anointed in November this year.


Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured Image: Lahore Fort Badshahi mosque by Wasif Malik, licensed by creativecommons.org



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Why signing of landmark agreements with the US is in India’s National interest?

The concept of swing power mandates that India move closer to the US by signing agreements that signal closer defence and trade cooperation

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

There have been media reports recently about India on the verge of signing agreements with the US that will move it closer to almost to a status of alliance.  There are basically three agreements—Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) which give the US forces access to Indian bases and vice-versa, the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation. The focus of bilateral cooperation will be on these agreements during the visit to India in April of Ashton Carter, the US defence secretary. Closely aligned is the Defence Trade & Technology Initiative (DTTI). There is opposition in some quarters in the Indian military and the government regarding some serious concerns on these agreements.

The concerns stem from the fact that “what do we do in case of war?” Alliance politics, balancing by world powers, miscalculation, miscommunication—all could lead to a major war according to John Mearsheimer, a renowned US professor on International Relations. He explains it succinctly in his book, the Tragedy of Great Power Politics  where he concludes that the world powers blundered into the First World War. India is justified in asking the question of “what to do in case of war?” as its bilateral relations, especially with countries in the Persian Gulf and Southeast/East Asia are markedly different than that of the US with them. In this debate, it is essential to clearly understand the concept of swing power.

According to Project for New American Security (PNAS),  a US based think tank global swing states are nations that possess large and growing economies, occupy central positions in a region or stand at the hinge of multiple regions, and embrace democratic government at home. Increasingly active at the regional and global level, they desire changes to the existing international order but do not seek to scrap the interlocking web of global institutions, rules, and relationships that has fostered peace, prosperity and freedom for the past six decades. Taking this argument further, K. Subrahmanyam, one of India’s foremost strategic thinkers had advocated India’s role in the international order as a swing power.

If the US is at the top of the hierarchy, China second, then it makes sense for India to be a swing power. The basis of being a swing power is this: India should have better bilateral relations with US & China than they have with each other. Rather than viewing it as containing China, being a swing power must be seen as defending Indian values of liberal, secular and pluralistic democracy. The defence ministry is having some apprehensions about signing these agreements with service chiefs of the view that there is little to be gained from such agreements.

It is important to gather what these apprehensions are? Is it, hypothetically, if US were to go to war with Iran in the future, what would be India’s stand? The answer to this conundrum can be simplified to walk away from the agreement if it does not suit our national interests. For example, Sri Lanka has signed these agreements but still goes to China for strategic partnership for Hambantota port. Let’s face it. India is not a banana republic whose foreign policy or strategic autonomy can be held to ransom. There is no need to shy away from signing these agreements.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar 



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An analysis of creeping role of the military in the state functions

The involvement of  the army for routine civilian tasks is indicative of failure of state institutions and polity’s lack of understanding of civil-military relations

If the understanding of civil-military relations of the present government is an indicator of the maturity of the political establishment, there seems to be a complete lack of understanding. Three instances immediately come to light. First, the tasking of Indian army units to lay yoga mats for the World Yoga Day on June 21st last year when a gust of wind blew away the yoga mats. Second, 250 soldiers of the army were sent for Yoga training under Baba Ramdev in January. It is understood that a total of 1000 soldiers will be trained in yoga by the guru, who in turn will teach yoga in their units to combat stress. Third, the episode involving 120 soldiers of corps of army engineers to build pontoon bridges for the world culture festival held in Delhi from March 11-13 by Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living Foundation.

The first was covered up by the government under the excuse that it was an emergency situation and who better trained and equipped to lay the mats than the disciplined army soldiers. The second and third instances seems even more bizarre. For an event, which had been stridently objected to by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) as it was being conducted on the flood plains of Yamuna, the decision to deploy the army for a private enterprise is nothing short of morally and ethically reprehensible. Reportedly, the NGT gave its nod to the event after slapping a fine of Rs. 5 Crore on the organisers.

In a democratic set-up, civilian control of military is accepted as a matter of fact. Samuel P. Huntington’s thesis elaborates that a military must remain apolitical to maximise its professionalism. By definition, professionalism enhances military political abstinence because it gives soldiers the autonomy to focus on state’s external enemies that fosters apolitical attitudes and behaviour in the officer corps. Huntington terms this as the “objective civilian control.”  Civilian control is the independent variable to the dependent variable of military effectiveness. In contrast, “subjective civilian control”, in which the state control politicises the military, thereby weakening its military effectiveness is highly undesirable. Samuel Finer, another scholar takes this argument to another level.

Finer enumerates that professionalisation provides militaries with internal cohesion, distinct ideologies, and a corporate identity as the servants of the permanent state rather than the government of the day. The professional military’s belief in this manifest destiny motivates it to intervene and save the nation whenever it deems that corrupt or incompetent civilian authorities are undermining the national interest—a set of beliefs that clearly attenuates the scope of control by temporary civilian politicians.

It’s just not pro-nationalist socialisation in the army that sets it apart from other organs of the state. An army is more professional than other organs of the state (at all corresponding levels).  Aqil Shah, a Pakistani scholar in his book on Army and Democracy concludes that professional development did not depoliticise the Pakistani military. Instead, it aroused the military’s interest in civilian affairs. As the civilian institutions were deemed weak, lazy, incompetent and corrupt, it was natural for the army to save the state. The result is there for all of usa country that is run by army rather than the other way around. At its extreme manifestation, military in politics can be highly repressive and toxic as numerous examples in the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Latin America demonstrate.

Could the Indian army Chief have said no? Going strictly by the rule book, the civilian government has the legitimacy to pass such orders which utilises the expertise of the army. To that extent, the army chief is bound by rules to obey his civilian bosses. But he certainly has the legitimacy of his office to bring it to the notice of his superiors that the army cannot not be used for such mundane tasks. The world yoga day was a government event. The world culture festival, on surface, had the explicit support of the government to a private trust. Even if the private trust uses the resources of the government, it needs to be done for a fee. It has not yet been clarified whether the army was paid for its services. The festival website shows a picture of Sri Sri Ravishankar with the PM and Advani. The President too was an invitee to this event which he eventually declined.

If these were not enough, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) recently invited the veterans to an event in JNU where homage was paid to the martyrs. It was ostensibly to infuse a sense of nationalist pride among the anti-national students of JNU and frame the discourse in binary terms.

Hence we have a double whammy situation here—the civilian bosses in the government use the army as a tool to ‘softly’ propagate its brand of Hindutva whilst the storm troopers in guise of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) cadres openly court the veterans in explicating their brand of nationalism. This government has started to walk on a slippery rope of legitimising all its actions in the name of national interest. One thing may lead to another. It was Yoga day and world cultural festival. Tomorrow, could it be something called World Islamic Congress, or a large event of the Catholic Church? Should the government say no to availing the services of the army? Where do we draw the line. It is now high time for the BJP-RSS combine to decide where and when to put a full stop and prevent further erosion of the institution of ultimate violence—the army.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Indian army trucks near Jammu, licensed from creativecommons.org

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Budget 2016-What about naval acquisitions?

Navy’s role as an instrument of Indian foreign policy gets a lukewarm treatment with the latest budget

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

The budget presented by the Finance Minister Mr Arun Jaitley surprisingly sidestepped one of the most important components—national security. Not a word was mentioned about defence. The Budget estimate for 2016-17 is Rs 2,95,623 Crores excluding defence pensions. An amount of Rs. 82,332 Crores has been set aside for defence pensions. The total allocation is thus an increase of about 10 percent which compares to the previous year on year (YOY) increases. What is of interest is the allocation for capital acquisitions which is Rs. 90,660 crores.

Capital expenditure indicates the money that is spent on acquiring new assets to enhance combat capability. The defence ministry returned 13.5% allocated to capital expenditure in the last fiscal. This is attributable to the procurement procedures as well as delay by the arms suppliers. The ratio of individual service expenditure approximately is as below.

Service             Capital Expenditure (in %)          Revenue Expenditure (in %)

Army                           10                                                                          90

Navy                            40                                                                          60

Air Force                     35                                                                          65

The armed forces’ capital acquisition is based on a Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) which envisages acquisition over a period of fifteen years from 2012-2027 (from 12th to 14th five year plans). The individual services then have their own Service Capital Acquisition Plan (SCAP) that are based on the five year plans. The yearly plan that is reflected in the budget is the Roll-on Plan (ROP).

Of the three services, navy is the one which is the most visible as an instrument of foreign policy. It derives this ability from being the most mobile and deployable in any part of the globe when national interests require it to do so. To maintain combat capability, the desirable equipment profile of the armed forces as per defence secretary’s testimony to parliamentary standing committee is 30:40:30 (30 per cent state of the art, 40 per cent current, and 30 per cent nearing obsolescence), the present profile is 15:45:40. As a result, the combat edge is consistently getting weakened.The main reasons for emasculated acquisition budget is the ballooning salaries and pension bill.

The most significantly affected on the acquisition matrix of the navy are the Project 15B destroyers, Project 17A frigates and the two indigenous aircraft carriers which are the fulcrum of the navy’s capability. Another cause for worry is the delay in Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and the Medium Range Reconnaissance Aircraft. According to the latest Defence Procurement Procedure 2016 unveiled by the defence minister, one of the main initiatives to overcome the foreign dependence is the Indigenous Design Development and Manufacturing (IDDM). This would ensure a viable military-industrial complex with spin offs for the civilian sector. At present, is better to be circumspect than sanguine about our acquisition policy.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution.

Featured Image: Aircraft Carrier by Steven Weng, licensed from creativecommons.org


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Danger of Militarism over Nationalism in current times

The use of military veterans to portray nationalism for achieving political objectives has dangerous ramifications for civil-military relations in a liberal democratic society like India and must be avoided at any cost  

The use of military symbols to project nationalism by the present government has dangerous ramifications. In trying to portray Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid (the case is still sub judice) and some other students as anti-national, the government, aided by a section of the TV news networks, unfortunately used Lance Naik Hanumanthappa’s heroic death due to avalanche in Siachen glacier. The obvious aim was to steer the discourse in a binary framework: national versus anti-national or simply, us versus them. Ex servicemen have been commandeered to be the torchbearers of patriotism and nationalism by inviting them to meetings at the JNU. Prima facie, there seems to be nothing wrong with inviting veterans to the JNU. What is wrong is the brand of competitive nationalism that is being imposed and exploiting our soldiers to do the dirty job. The social media has been actively used for trolls and counter trolls. In an event held in JNU by ABVP on February 24, senior veterans were invited  to speak to the university administration. Reportedly, they asked for a memorial to be built in the campus and also volunteered to donate a tank.  The latest to join the fray is a 2 minute video titled ‘Freedom of Action?’ directed by Vivek Joshi.

The title is quite provocative and asks probing question from the audience. Two soldiers are on guard with their guns trained at the enemy across the border when they hear some anti-national slogans coming from own side. At this, one of them turns around and aims his gun in the direction of sloganeering (although, no one is visible). The other soldier laconically tells his comrade that killing them is useless, as  he would be killing only the men and not the ideology. To which, the second one replies that a man who has broken his relationship with his mother has broken all his relationships. And then, goes on to take aim. The message is very clear. Army can be the symbol of extreme form of nationalism and it will be used to eliminate whoever is deemed anti-national.  Getting the veterans involved in student politics that is within the ambit of state is nothing short of absurdity.  This rings an ominous warning and brings us to the complex debate of civil-military relations.

The Indian armed forces are modeled on the British system. The civilian control and oversight over the military is taken for granted in such a set-up. The military in a liberal democratic society must remain strictly apolitical for it to remain professional. Towards this, the officer corps plays an important role, for they are the decision makers of an arm of the state which is capable of utmost violence.  Huntington, a highly acknowledged American political scientist terms this as the ‘objective civilian control’ which is the most desirable for effective civil-military balance of power. This maximises military professionalism, and hence security of the state. The military’s and as a corollary, the officers’ role in politics is non-existent. The civilian control is the independent variable to the dependent variable of military effectiveness. This is in stark to contrast to ‘subjective control’ where the civilian assertion has dangerous portends of deprofessionalising the military which might ultimately result in a coup.

One doesn’t need to go far in the subcontinent. Pakistan is a standing example where intrusive interference by Jinnah involved military in politics immediately after independence.  Within a decade, the military overthrew the civilian government. There has been no looking back since then. Bangladesh too has had an uneasy relationship with the military wherein the founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was assassinated in a bloody military coup within a few years of its independence.  Myanmar has been ruled by its military for the better part of its existence. The complex of civil-military relations becomes a dangerous cocktail when mixed with religion. A benign flirting with religion at the beginning, subsequently leads to massive inroads into the vitals of military effectiveness and competence.

From its inception, military has been associated with masculinity, valour,  and defending the territorial integrity at any cost. The trouble starts when these values get mixed with symbols of religious identity masquerading as nationalism in a politically charged atmosphere with passions running high. A large standing army can be a beast— it can be extremely powerful and strong enough in thwarting an external aggression.  By the same token, it is also used to quell internal strife and insurgencies by remaining purely apolitical and non-partisan.  At the same time, it should be subservient enough to the civil authority and not become a frankenstein monster. Till now, by all available evidence, only a minuscule section of retired personnel have visibly showed signs of aligning with the ideology of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra.  In contrast, the police in uniform has demonstrated its partisanship by looking the other way when violence broke out in the Delhi High Court premises. It must be borne in mind by the political masters in charge that the military has an almost paternal relationship with its veteran community. The politicians are only playing with fire by involving the veterans to realise before long that the serving officer corps too is afflicted with this. To achieve their ends, the stormtroopers in the form of foot soldiers of ABVP are being released as trial balloons. Once this genie of ‘military in politics’ is out of the bottle, it will be dangerous to control.


Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar 

Featured Image : Military unit in training by Elizabeth Anderson, licensed by creativecommons.org




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Interpreting Section 124 (a) in the context of JNU students’ protest

The history of prosecution success of sedition law in India has been rather mixed and its application in the case of JNU students too raises uncomfortable questions

The arrest of seven students of JNU and its president on February 10 for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans under section 124 (a) has sparked a debate whether this section is needed in a modern democratic society. The constitution of India does not define the word sedition.  Section 124 (a) of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) defines the defines the offence of ‘Sedition’ as below:

Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

The sedition law is a colonial hangover (like many other archaic laws). Interestingly, it is linked to the Wahhabi movement in India. Although the IPC was brought into force in 1860 (after the bloody 1857 revolt or the first war of independence), this section was introduced only in 1870. Reason being that our colonial masters were drawing their lessons after fighting the Wahhabi rebels. The movement was ruthlessly put down by the then British government.

During the freedom struggle of India, the British Raj used this law against many freedom fighters, notable among them being Annie Besant, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Mahatma Gandhi. This in no way condones the allegedly anti-national slogans raised by the JNU students, one of them being  desh ki barbadi (destruction of the country) and if proven, action needs to be taken.  At the time of writing, the case is still under investigation by the Delhi Police.

The successful prosecution under this section has been very patchy in independent India. Some of the personalities against whom this section was applied but could not be prosecuted are Maneka Gandhi, Arundhati Roy, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, and Binayak Sen. In a well known case, 67 Kashmiri students were booked under this act by the UP government in 2014 when they cheered for Pakistan in an Asia Cup match against India. Again, this could be applied subjectively. If in a match between India vs Australia, you cheer for Australia, it may not be termed sedition because the relations between the two countries are not by any stretch of imagination, inimical. The charges were dropped later on due to intervention by Omar Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Kashmir.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly cautioned that even words indicating disaffection against the state will not constitute the offence, unless there is a call for violence or a pernicious tendency to create public disorder. In this specific case, reportedly the JNU students union had even dissociated itself from the views of the group of students who had organised the ill conceived anniversary of Afzal Guru’s hanging.

Even other political parties have resorted to use this section selectively at various times. Taking a non-partisan approach, the time has come to genuinely debate whether we need this, almost 70 years after independence.


Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured Image: Really old law books by umjanedoan, licensed from creativecommons.org


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Siachen glacier — strategic options to demilitarise

The immense loss of precious lives and high material cost with a not so high strategic stakes is a good reason for the Indian government to consider withdrawing from Siachen

The recent death of 9 Indian soldiers due to an avalanche on the Siachen glacier made headlines. According to initial reports, the tally was 10 killed but on February 9, the miraculous survival of a soldier brought some solace. This tragedy has once again brought to fore, the high human cost and not so high utility of presence of the Indian army. This is not the first time that this issue is being debated. In 2012, when Pakistan army lost more than a 100 soldiers in a similar natural tragedy, the then Pak army chief General Kayani had made a similar suggestion. More than 2000 soldiers have died on both sides so far. This is not taking into account the permanent disability suffered due to frostbite, and several other high altitude related ailments.

The eyeball-to-eyeball position of troops of India-Pakistan is a legacy of partition. In 1949, when UN declared ceasefire, Pakistan had occupied about one-third of Kashmir and called it Azad Kashmir(India refers to it as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). The ceasefire line was demarcated up to a point called NJ 9842. Beyond NJ 9842, the documents signed by both the sides had the phrase ‘thence north’ to glaciers for the line of control (post Simla agreement in 1972, the ceasefire line was called the LoC). This phrase became the bone of contention. The Indian army occupied the Saltoro Ridge in a daring operation in April 1984 when there were intelligence reports of the Pak army’s moves to occupy the same. Pak army swiftly moved on the opposite side. The two sides have been static ever since with the weather taking a much heavier human toll than actual combat.

Demilitarisation of Siachen was first mooted in Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister. Pavan Nair, an ex-army veteran, in a well researched article on the subject questions the strategic value of maintaing troops there. True, Pakistan ceded Shaksgam valley to China in 1963. The hawks will always contend that Pakistan will play mischief along with China. To get troops into Nubra, Pakistan army would have to climb to about 24,000 feet and drop down to travel along the glacier — a logistical nightmare by any stretch of imagination. To reach the same place, alternately it could use the flatter approach through Shyok valley. In fact, the Indian army did plan to use this approach during ‘Exercise Brasstacks’ in 1987.

The answer to argument ‘What if” Pakistan occupies is to invest in high technology drones and position the troops at such a location where advance warning can pre-empt any such action. A rapid reaction force in Shyok/Nubra valley can effectively deter such a misadventure. Withdrawal will need tremendous political will on both the sides. The most difficult stakeholder to please will be the security establishment. Inder Gill, a well respected General of the Indian army, had this to say in an Op-ed that appeared in The Hindu in 1997:”The amounts of money wasted by both sides is very large indeed. There is nowhere that either side can go in this terrain…We have no strategic-tactical advantage. Nor can Pakistan. We must withdraw immediately and unilaterally and save wastage of money.” The general did not mention human cost—which is of course priceless.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Nubra Valley by rv, licensed from creativecommons.org


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The least bad option for J & K’s political future

In the current state of suspense, the least bad option out of a political stalemate is for PDP to join with Congress with outside support from National Conference

Dark clouds are looming on the horizon of political landscape in J & K. After the death of Mr. Mufti Mohammed Sayeed last month, there has been a stalemate between his daughter and political heir apparent of his People’s Democratic Party(PDP), Ms. Mehbooba Mufti and the coalition partner BJP. The BJP-PDP combine came together after the elections in December 2014 based on Mufti’s understanding that the ‘agenda of alliance’ will eschew controversial issues.  Little did PDP realise that the alliance would reach a breaking point within a year. It is no secret that PDP has steadily lost the goodwill in the valley. If Mufti was the glue that held the alliance together, the same cannot be said of Mehbooba.

In all fairness, laying the entire blame on Mehbooba also would not be correct. She does not enjoy the same level of confidence with the population as her father. The local BJP leadership also has played an active role in vitiating the atmosphere. Beef politics, flying of Indian national flag alongside the J & K flag, and the entry of RSS into the valley have all the indications of fringe elements moving into mainstream. The centre, on its part, has done precious little to assuage the apprehensions of the people. Sensing that the situation would come to a boil if not addressed immediately, Governor NN Vohra gave an ultimatum to both the BJP and PDP on February 1.

By all indications, the PDP-BJP alliance is dead. Even if amends were to be made, it would at best remain patchy with both sides resorting to brinksmanship time and again. The current composition of the 87 member assembly is—PDP-28, BJP-25, JKNC-15, INC-12, Independents-4, CPI(M)-1, People’s Democratic Front-1. The combinations that are available will be as follows.

Option 1- BJP-PDP come to a rapprochement and move ahead. Unlikely.

Option 2- The BJP withdraws support. Tries to form government with JKNC by convincing Omar Abdullah, the independents, and the PDF to reach the halfway mark of 44. Impossible. Omar has gone on record to say that the BJP is not the same when it was under Vajpayee. Despite their earlier partnership in NDA I, their present differences are irreconcilable.

Option 3- BJP withdraws support. Congress joins PDP. JKNC provides outside support to Mehbooba. Tough to work out but certainly worth a try in the absence of any better option. As the two have been together in a coalition government from 2002-8 when the Congress ditched PDP to align with NC, differences can be ironed out.  It will be worth recalling that Congress was the first to offer support to PDP after the elections in 2014. This would also present the Congress to claim some political space. Omar will need convincing for outside support.

Option 4- BJP withdraws support. PDP fails to convince any other party for outside support. Governor’s rule is imposed.  Worst that can happen. Elections can be held only after a certain period in which the valley will be thrown into complete turmoil.

Of all the options, option 3, though an out-of-the-box arrangement, seems the least bad option. The people of J & K deserve a stable government. Mehbooba owes it to them.


Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Sonamarg, Kashmir by Partha Sahana, licensed from creativecommons.org

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