There goes the siren of psy-war

Was the violence in Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Hyderabad deliberately engineered at carefully selected targets of strategic importance?

Gulmarg” 1947, “Gibraltar” and “Grand Slam” 1965, “Changez Khan” 1971, and “Badr” 1999 — all these are Pakistani code words for the offensives launched against India during the Indo-Pak wars of those years.

But now India is facing a different, perhaps unique, offensive from Pakistan, for which no code name has been employed as yet. It is a campaign of deniable psychological warfare which targets the very “idea of India” by developing communal fissures within its civil society. This was graphically demonstrated in the chain of events interlinking ethnic violence in Assam, Mumbai and Bengaluru. This is a storm warning the country can ignore only at its own peril.
Pakistan realised quite early that it could never hope to substantially damage India by conventional armed conflict. It changed its strategy, settling for terrorism, low-intensity warfare and psychological operations. It is thus not unimaginable to suggest that the communal violence triggered by the riots in Assam’s Kokrajhar district, exploited in Mumbai followed by the exodus of the people of the Northeast from Bengaluru and other southern states was not caused by spontaneous combustion after communal riots, but by deliberate actions with much deeper overall strategic objectives than may be immediately apparent.
It should also not be considered totally far-fetched to assume that the current wave of communally motivated retaliation in Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru organised by “unknown persons” in the aftermath of the Assam riots, targeting people of north-eastern origin can, in fact, be acts of planned psychological warfare engineered by covert agencies from across the border to destabilise the country. The process of denial commenced the moment “Pakistan” was mentioned and was followed by cursory dismissal by Pakistan of the Indian home minister’s rather plaintive complaints, with the characteristic undertones of ridicule which come across in all such interactions, and which India has learnt to put up with.
The communal disturbances that broke out in Mumbai at the conclusion of the mammoth protest meeting of Muslims organised on August 11, 2012, against the backdrop of the violence in faraway Kokrajhar was organised by the Raza Academy, about which nothing much is known, even to the Mumbai Police. This mysterious academy, of course, promptly disclaimed all responsibility for the violence. It claimed that the violence was the work of outsiders even though it was this very meeting which provided the platform for incendiary communal speeches and became the launchpad for the outbreak.
To further inflame passions which rapidly built up at the venue, the events in Assam were even connected with the massacre of Rohingya Muslim community in the Rakhine province of Burma. Matters soon got out of hand as they usually do in these circumstances and, though the Mumbai Police claimed that the rioting had been brought under control within a very short time, it was apparent that there was no prior information or intelligence about the likelihood of such a contingency. As an intelligence failure, the Mumbai riots perhaps ranked on a scale comparable to 26/11, from which no lessons appear to have been learnt. So, too, was the situation in Bengaluru, where police intervention was not as firm and timely as it should have been.
With more information gradually seeping into the public domain, it is now becoming increasingly apparent that the communal violence which raced across India, from Kokrajhar to Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune and thence to towns in Uttar Pradesh, were carefully stage-managed by expert manipulation of public perceptions. The tools were gossip and rumours, propagated by doctored images on social media originating in Pakistan. Thus it would not be alarmist to discern an organised campaign of psychological warfare (psy-war), managed with professional expertise and competence by shadowy across-the-border agencies, whose identities are gradually coming to light.
Psychological warfare is still a relatively less-known entity in India. It is directed against the individual as well as collective human psyche and perceptions and is difficult to counter, unless an equally deliberate plan of counter-psychological warfare is developed. This is not a traditional military operational skill, but an esoteric branch of conflict requiring the special expertise of diverse high-calibre professionals not otherwise associated with the military — psychologists, public relations personnel, journalists, media and advertising professionals. These capabilities require substantial enhancement.
There are several significant factors common to the outbreaks in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. To begin with, all three cities are located in the national heartland of information technology, with a large presence of national research facilities, strategic manufacturing and scientific institutes. It is thus intriguing that the fallout of a communal outbreak in the rural environments of Kokrajhar could have such powerful repercussions in Mumbai, the economic capital of the country, and Pune, Hyderabad and Bengaluru, all significant centres of high-technology research and manufacturing, many related to sensitive key areas of defence, including missiles, guided weapons and aerospace.
Seen in this context, was the violence in Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Hyderabad deliberately engineered at carefully selected targets of strategic importance? Have the Kokrajhar riots, tragic and deplorable as they undoubtedly are, been seized upon by hostile agencies as a window of opportunity to launch a larger and more deliberate plan to disrupt India’s strategic potential and create some degree of chaos in the country? Official agencies involved with internal security psychological operations and counter-intelligence should be looking for answers to these questions.
There are other concerns too, about short-sighted political manoeuvres developing around Assam, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The consequences can be extremely dangerous for the safety and security of the nation. It is, therefore, a matter of urgency that the wider ramifications of any Kokrajhar-Mumbai-Bengaluru linkage should be rapidly investigated and brought to light.

The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former MP

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