India: Self-Inflicted Wounds in the War on Terror

February 6, 2009

February 6, 2009

Believing as he does that it is not ethnicity but values that define a civilization, this analyst was among the many who welcomed the November 4, 2008 election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States. Indeed, this bias towards President Obama has been present since November 2007, when he became an internationally visible contender for the office. The victory may motivate millions within the United States to shed the Victim Mindset and take advantage of the opportunities the United States has to offer as successfully as Indian-Americans (now the most prosperous segment within the population) have. This is conditional, however, on President Obama successfully ensuring the safety and prosperity of the United States, and this is itself partly conditional on continuing to keep his homeland safe from another mass casualty terror attack.

Should the Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008 be replicated in America, the resulting loss of confidence in public security may be severe enough to affect consumer behavior. Although George W. Bush has been panned for asking Americans to spend after 9-11, it is a reality that the ability of the United States to come out of its current difficulties will hinge on the American consumer acting both free and brave, something possible only in a secure environment. Success against terror will need an understanding of the evolving chemistries in South Asia, especially that of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

In India, as in Pakistan, the establishment has been going one way and moderate civil society the other. But while in Pakistan and Bangladesh it is the army that acts the spoiler, in India, it is the civilian authority, elected in a manner that promotes toadyism and graft. Although the country has reasonably free elections, either a family or a small, unelected cabal controls almost all political parties ensuring that the only candidates to be chosen to run for office are seen as servile to the interests of the family/cabal.

The Congress Party has been “owned” by the Nehru family since the 1950s, and each of its principal holders of office have been personally selected by this clan, now headed by the Italian-born Sonia Maino Gandhi (no relation, even by marriage, of the Mahatma). The Samajwadi Party (SP) is similarly owned by local strongman M.S. Yadav. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is run by Kumari Mayawati. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is controlled by the Karunanidhi family. The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been run by two men since the 1950s, A.B. Vajpayee (now out of active duty because of weak health) and L.K. Advani. The list goes on.

No Indian political party permits free elections for its leadership positions, or holds a U.S.-style primary election to decide its candidates for national elections. The result is that the parliament of the “world’s largest democracy” overwhelmingly represents those chosen for their subservience by the handful of individuals who run the different political parties in the country.

Those who cringe before their masters usually behave as bullies towards those weaker, and India’s political rulers are no different. Although the country became independent of the British in 1947, as yet it continues to be constrained by a web of criminal and civil procedures that have made the country one where the effective rights of the citizenry against the administration are tenuous, based less on law than on considerations of personal and political interest.

An ugly manifestation of this mixture of cowardice and bullying is the failure of the state to act decisively against terrorists and their sympathizers, whereas the whip gets cracked on citizens committing the “crime” of having a modern lifestyle. The police minister of the state of Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located, focused for the four years leading up to the attacks of November 26-28 not on discovering and uprooting jihadi nests, but on chasing away dancing girls from bars. Small wonder that his force has been so spectacularly inept in tackling not young women earning a livelihood through gyrating to a band, but jihadis and their support networks across the city and the state.

For the past weeks, the media in India has been transfixed by a controversy triggered off by senior politicians in both the BJP as well as the Congress Party decrying the act of going to a pub, fearful that this would, in their words, “destroy Indian culture”. So enthused have some been about this message that in BJP-ruled Karnataka state, a set of thugs with the apparent support of the local administration have entered pubs and roughed up those in them, including – naturally – women, with scant legal consequences. It would appear that where their central vision of society is concerned, religious fundamentalists have few differences. They pick on those citizens unwilling to adopt their agendas, almost always in the name of social justice and public morality

Within India’s most industrialized state, Maharashtra, and especially its capital Mumbai, there exists a collection of toughs known as the MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti or Maharashtra Renaissance Army), headed by Raj Thackeray. Thackeray is the nephew of B. Thackeray, the “owner” of the Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist party. B. Thackeray blocked his nephew from challenging B. Thackeray’s decision to turn Shiv Sena leadership over to his son (and Raj Thackeray’s cousin) Uddhav Thackeray.

MNS members rampage frequently in cities, even killing those from other states, and demanding that companies in the state recruit only those speaking Marathi, the local language. The MNS would like to see English disappear with a fervor as marked as that of the Taliban, and as it is backed by leaders within the ruling Congress Party in order to embarrass and thereby weaken the opposition Shiv Sena party. The police act the role of the forgiving uncle even in egregious cases of assault by MNS goons.

Ironically, the Shiv Sena was itself promoted by the Congress Party in the 1960s and beyond, in order to weaken the Communist parties’ hold over trade unions. The Shiv Sena succeeded in splitting the workforce on linguistic lines, and very soon itself became a headache for the Congress, eventually displacing it from office in the 1990s.

Earlier, in the Punjab during the 1980s, then-Congress Party Home Minister Zail Singh gave his backing to a fiery Sikh preacher, J.S. Bhinderanwale, so as to undercut the opposition Akali Dal, a collection of Sikh political parties. In a few brief years, Bhinderanwale undercut not only the Akalis but also the security of the country, with his followers signing on to the Pakistan army’s project of creating an “independent” Sikh state under the preacher that would owe fealty to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is another of the many organizations that have been given financial and other backing by governments in India, in the case of the latter, to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government. Clearly, the Brzezinski strategy of arming one’s deadly foes to battle one’s foes (as seen with the Afghan jihad) has many followers in India.

By going after pub goers and dancing girls rather than jihadis, governments in India are in effect backing the medieval agenda of the Taliban and its ISI supporters, while drawing attention away from the central need: draining the marshes where terrorists breed, and taking out those that are active. They are showing a marshmallow face towards the dangerous, while being tough against those who are societally harmless. India may be on the cusp of a policy error that may speed up the country’s progress towards becoming another Pakistan. The error made by the establishments in both Pakistan and India is to pick on the modernized element of society in order to earn cheers from those unable or unwilling to move ahead, thus creating a climate where such support of radicalism ensures its growth over moderate (modern) elements. Granting fringe elements concessions serves only to strengthened them and, in the process, weaken society.

The spread of a jihadist mindset within Pakistan accelerated in the 1970s when degrees obtained from Islamic schools known as madrassas were granted legal equivalency to those awarded by secular institutions for applicants seeking civil service jobs including the military. Today, more than 67 percent of the Pakistani military – at all levels – are the products of at least a partial religious education, received from the numerous Wahabbi institutions that honeycomb the country. The present Indian government is considering whether to follow the example of Pakistan and equalize education in the Islamic madrassas with that of secular schools, a step that it hopes will capture the Muslim vote during the upcoming April elections.

Should such a policy be implemented in India, the “graduates” of these religious schools would soon begin to flood into the middle, and thereafter the higher, reaches of the police, the military and the civilian administration. These recruits from the madrassas would bring with them their own unique world-view – the “divine” duty to create an Islamic Caliphate that would exclude from power those not subscribing to the Wahabbi creed of Islam.

By policies that have the effect of separating Muslims from the rest of their fellow citizens, and by creating in them a sense of victim hood that facilitates their recruitment into jihadi groups, India is making the very same mistakes that have made Pakistan a country on the cusp of internal collapse. Sadly, as the recent antics of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in India demonstrated (when he argued that only concessions to their political objectives would quiet down the Lashkar-e-Toiba terror group), Western chancelleries too are filled with those who believe that today’s Nazis will be satisfied with the Sudetenland and thereafter leave civilized society in peace, rather that be encouraged by such appeasement.

M.D. Nalapat became India’s first professor of geopolitics in 1999 at Manipal University in India’s Karnataka state. Since 1992,he has held that Wahabbism-Khomeinism and authoritarianism are the twin threats faced by the international community and that the “unified field” of terrorism mandates a similar response. In 2003, he partnered with JINSA in organizing the first of four annual India-Israel-U.S. Conferences. Professor Nalapat, who first put forward the idea of forming an “Asian NATO,” believes that Israel, India, Turkey and Singapore form part of the “Extended West”, rather than an “extended Middle East”, and that the countries in this group need to work in concert to promote prosperity, democracy and freedom from terror.