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Are we heading to being a failed State?
Rajeev Srinivasan
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December 08, 2008
The invasion of Mumbai by Pakistani terrorists is but a replay of times past: The periodic and predictable arrival of barbarians over the Khyber Pass, laying waste to the countryside, and wreaking untold damage on a long-suffering populace. The only crime that the average Indian committed was to focus on the creation of wealth; of course, the barbarians came because of the wealth. Today, once again, India is generating capital, and the intention is to thwart its economic rise.

Then, as now, the rulers failed the populace. There is an implicit contract between the rulers and the ruled: You pay the taxes, obey the rules, and we ensure that your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are unhindered. India's ruling class failed signally to honour this contract -- they never did figure out that the simple expedient of defending the Khyber and Bolan passes would be enough to save the plains, because nature had been kind enough to build the impregnable Himalayas all around India.

I have never got a satisfactory answer to the question as to why we didn't build the Great Wall of India. The Chinese built a 1,500-mile wall; Indians could surely have built a 15-mile wall and kept the marauders out. But there was clearly a failure in leadership and in strategic thinking. Time after time, the barbarians would pour in through the passes, march to Panipat or Tarain, and there, in a desperate last-ditch battle, the Indians would lose, again and again. The result: Disaster.

Furthermore, there were traitors in-house, too. They would collude with the invaders to the detriment of their fellow Indians. Jaichand, during the second battle of Tarain in 1192, turned the tide of the battle by allying with Mahmud of Ghori against Prithviraj Chauhan, with the result that northern India suffered 700 years of tyranny -- it was a clear tipping point. Or take the battle of Talikota that ended the magnificent Vijayanagar empire: it was their own troops that betrayed them.

Fast forward to today. India is under withering attack on all fronts. To the east, there is the demographic invasion by Bangladeshis, including unhindered infiltration by terrorist elements. The entire north-east is in danger of secession, given both the narrow and hard-to-defend 'chicken's neck' that connects the area to the Gangetic plain, as well as the Christian fundamentalism and terrorism that is on the verge of turning into a move to secede on religious and ethnic grounds, a la East Timor.

The northern frontier is restive, with Nepal, a former ally and buffer State transformed into hostile territory, with its porous borders turned into a way of infiltrating terrorists into India, with the declared intent of capturing the 'Pasupati-to-Tirupati corridor', in other words, most of the eastern half of the country.

China is making increasingly belligerent noises about Tawang and all of Arunachal Pradesh. They are gambling that, despite the summit that just took place in Dharamsala, the steam has gone out of the Tibetan resistance movement. They have been emboldened by the fact that Tibetans were not able to disrupt the Olympics [Images], and the more immediate betrayal by the British (see the International Herald Tribune's Did Britain Just Sell Tibet?), who declared, contrary to all the historical evidence, that Tibet [Images] was always a part of China. Besides, the Chinese fully intend to move forward with the diversion of the Brahmaputra, which is in effect a declaration of war against the lower riparian State, India.

It is likely that the Chinese will march into Tawang -- there is a lot of chatter in Chinese circles (see, an analysis by D S Rajan at the Chennai Centre for China Studies) about a 'limited India-China war', a replay of 1962. The Chinese have, in addition to pure geopolitics, another reason to do this, as was pointed out by strategy expert Brahma Chellaney -- as in the years preceding 1962, the world is now once again hyphenating India and China. By handing India a sharp conventional military defeat, China would like that hyphenation to be removed decisively, as it surely would be. India will once again be seen as the loser it has been during the entire 1947 to 2000 period.

In the northwest, Kashmir burns. The population clearly views India as a colony -- they want Indian money, but they are not willing to make the slightest concessions to Hindu sentiments. It is very convenient for them to have the cake and eat it too -- there is the little-known fact that J&K has practically nobody under the poverty line (2 percent and falling), as compared to the average of some 20 percent in the country as a whole. Kashmiris have prospered mightily despite -- or is it because of? -- the brutal ethnic cleansing of 400,000 Pandits now languishing in refugee camps.

In the traditionally quiet peninsula, there is evidence of tremendous terrorist activity. In Kerala [Images], it has been reported widely in the Malayalam media that 300 youth have been hired, trained and dispatched to Kashmir with explicit instructions -- kill Indian soldiers and support Pakistani intrusions. Terrorism [Images] is just another job. Sleeper cells exist in every town. The Konkan and Malabar coasts are dotted with safe harbours, where weapons, counterfeit currency and contraband are cached. The preferred mechanism -- bomb blasts to inflict maximum damage. Logistics, safe houses, surveillance, forged documents, etc. are provided by a wide network.

The fact is that all these threats are overwhelming the security apparatus in the country, such as it is. It is quite likely that the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing and the Anti-Terrorism Squad had some inkling of something big being planned, including the movement of small arms on the Ratnagiri coastline, and the logistics-related activities of known suspects. It is unclear why they didn't take preventive action.

There is a terrifying possibility -- that they in fact had no idea this was going on. There is an aphorism that you cannot stop all terrorist activity, but in India the situation is such that no terrorist activity is stopped -- they strike at will, and the populace is left to pick up the pieces of broken lives. This is no way to run a country.

The frightening possibility is that the Jaichands have in fact taken over the State. In which case, we can anticipate the total dismemberment of India -- possibly preceded by an interregnum where it is a failed State -- in the near future.

There is one other possibility -- that the army will have to take over. It is a remote possibility, for two reasons -- the Indian Army [Images] has been determinedly apolitical; and the State has continually striven to weaken it. Someone once made the ridiculous statement that India really didn't need an army, only a police force, and it appears the entire political class and bureaucracy have internalised this slogan.

From 1962 -- as always, on November 18 I silently saluted the martyrs of the Battle of Rezang-La, where C Company, 13th Kumaon died heroically to the last man -- when the ill-equipped troops froze to death on the Himalayan heights, to the refusal to increase military salaries when the bureaucrats awarded themselves 300 percent increases recently, the State has told the military that it doesn't value them. All the services are starved of funds.

One possible outcome is that the Indian military forces will gradually wither away and die, thus making the statement about India not needing an army a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is another possibility -- that of a military coup d'etat. Normally, the prospect of a military takeover -- given that they all end up badly -- from a democracy is not something one would welcome. But then India is not a democracy -- it is a kakistocracy, rule by the very worst possible people -- which has the trappings of a democracy but not the substance, so I wonder if military rule could possibly be any worse.

But the chances are getting increasingly good that the Indian State will collapse, just like Pakistan already has. A recent risk assessment by the World Economic Forum and CII considers the economic, energy, food/agriculture and national security that face India. The report is more concerned about the first three items, assuming that India is secure enough as a nation.

I hope they are right, but this invasion of Mumbai -- so daring and audacious -- makes me wonder. I have considered a nightmare scenario of Chinese battleships arriving in triumph at the Gateway of India [Images], to be welcomed with marigold garlands by the Jaichands, but I have to admit I never thought a motley crew of Pakistani terrorists would invade. The very future of the Indian State, suddenly, is in question. And it is mostly from self-inflicted, avoidable wounds. The failure of leadership is causing India to cease to exist.

Rajeev Srinivasan can be reached at

Rajeev Srinivasan
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