An old saying goes like this: ‘if something looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck’. The telltale signs of striking similarity between the Republic Day riots and mayhem unleashed in the heart of Delhi by so-called farm law protestors, the anti-CAA riots that took place in the same city last year, as well as the Arab Spring violence that triggered civil wars in several states of the Middle East, are too profound to ignore.
This perhaps brings to the fore the fundamental issue of whether the anarchic violence that Delhi faced, not once but twice in the last one year, were disparate incidents of attempted civil unrest orchestrated by a bunch of rogue elements or whether there is a bigger conspiracy to pin down, cripple and debilitate India from within.
Aspirational India Can Rattle Many
A country with 1.3 billion-strong population, reasonably replete with natural and human resources, forex reserves at estimated $584-billion, one of the largest armed forces, and with the potential to become a $10-trillion economy by 2030-32, is not just another country. It is a force to reckon with, and is a competition for many. However, many of India’s adversaries, both in the neighbourhood and beyond, have realized that India cannot be defeated in conventional wars or through terrorism. Not that those have not been tried. On the contrary, no opportunity has been spared to devastate India through terrorism or through attempts of waging wars against it. Yet, both these efforts by India’s adversaries only resulted in galvanizing the nation even more profoundly.
This is where the newer hybrid version of war was perhaps conceived and unleashed on India, and for which, the Arab Spring was the template that was put into execution ‘to bleed India through a thousand cuts’.
Opening a New Front Against India
The Balakot airstrike altered the threshold of India’s counter-terror response mechanism forever. It made Pakistan realize very clearly that henceforth, there would be severe punitive actions that the deep state of Pakistan would have to bear for hatching any more of 26/11- or Pulwama-type terror attacks. With full-fledged war against India out of question for decades now, and India’s counter-infiltration grid in Kashmir making it extremely difficult for Pakistan to cause any more upheaval there, Rawalpindi, and perhaps its masters in Beijing have been desperate to open a new front against India. For them, Kashmir is almost a lost case with increasing possibilities of diminishing returns.
If raising the Khalistan bogey in Punjab with support from expatriate Khalistani supporters was one of the options, the other invariably was to support every protest in India, and act as a catalyst to trigger civil unrests by latching on to issues and helping rabble-rousers through incessant disinformation campaigns to fuel riots and mayhem within India, where unfortunately, civilian protestors themselves would become the weapons of devastation to be used against the state.
The Arab Spring Template
If in 2020, it was the anti-CAA protests that were turned into destructive riots in the heart of India’s capital during the visit of US President Donald Trump, through an overwhelming disinformation campaign, the same template was put into action during the recent protest over farm laws on Republic Day, where too a set of most obnoxious fake information was circulated to create a panic situation surrounding some much-needed and extremely reasonable agriculture market reforms. On both occasions, days of riots were chosen carefully to get maximum global attention.
A dangerous cocktail of anti-government sentiments, created deliberately through sustained disinformation dissemination, radical religious ideologies, and organized mob violence, was used to unleash mayhem in India’s capital, much like it happened in Syria during the Arab Spring violence, to create a spectre of anarchy to not just shame the nation and symbols of its sovereignty, but to make every attempt to provoke the security agencies so that they fire incessantly in retaliation, which would result in fatalities.
For the anarchists, rabble-rousers, and their masterminds, the next plan was to ferry around those dead bodies, in case bullets were fired by the police, in funeral processions amidst war cries to create deep revulsion against the Government of India. The farm bill protest was a mere tool. The real objective was to cripple India from within through anarchy and then make it implode from within. Both the anti-CAA riots and the Republic Day riots were aimed at provoking violent retribution by law enforcement agencies, which then could be used as a justification (sic!!) to fuel more riots and make calls for global action or sanctions against India. That, perhaps, was what had been planned by the anarchists while taking cue from the Syrian Arab Spring template that resulted in a devastating civil war aided most generously by external elements to make sure that the country is destroyed from within.
But unlike Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Army that fired at the violent mobs on rampage, and which gave justification for the anarchists in Syria to create the Free Syrian Army to wage an outright war, Modi government did not take the bait, neither in 2020 nor in 2021. That perhaps is the biggest regret of the anarchists, some of whom are now cribbing as to why the security forces did not fire in retaliation in order to control the violent rioters. In hindsight, it is their frustration speaking, because not only the Republic Day rampage made them lose the general public support but also made it clear that the farm issue is just a ploy for most of the rioters and anarchists out there shedding crocodile tears for farmers.
Unmasking the Players
If in 2020, the Popular Front of India (PFI) was under the scanner for its alleged role in funding of the anti-CAA riots, in the 2021 Republic Day rampage, the role of Khalistani organizations and the Communists is now out of the closet. In November 2020, the Khalistani organizations had planned the Referendum 2020 to gauge the global support for a separate Khalistani state among expatriate Sikh population. It was always an open secret that Pakistan’s deep state and the ISI were looking forward to it.
Surprisingly, the demand for a separate Khalistan in the Referendum 2020 agenda never included the Pakistani part of Punjab. However, plans for Referendum 2020 in general, and the demand for Khalistan, never got much traction in Punjab, barring some fringe groups. In fact, the Khalistani groups had been pushed to the fringe. They were desperate for an issue to latch on to and unleash their own agenda, knowing well that they cannot draw support merely over the Khalistan issue. In the farm law protests centered around Punjab and Haryana, they found the perfect ‘beast of burden’ to piggyback on, to spew hatred and to plan their ruckus against the Indian state.
Much like the Khalistani groups, the Communist groups too have been reduced to irrelevance in India over the last decade because of their Jurassic-age ideologies and sheer lack of vision for India’s aspirational future. Yet, even as they have lost their popularity across the spectrum of India, among rural communities of Punjab, much like an oasis, their sway remains strong. Even as the funding came from the Khalistani supporters abroad, the ISI-backed elements played their part to amplify the decibel through social media, and the rural mobilization was done by the Communist organizations through a series of disinformation campaigns to instill fear among the farming community. One has to remember that the no one in India has mastered the art of violent mobilization for destructive causes like the Communists. Communists in Bengal have to their credit the closure of more than 58,000 factories through violent militant trade unionism and organized rampage of factory premises, all in the name of labour welfare, during their 34 years of misrule there.
Shadow-boxing for Riot Masterminds
Meanwhile, even as this siege of Delhi and rampage on the Republic Day happened, shadow-boxing for riot masterminds was being done in India by those in the political arena who have been desperate to corner the Modi government and have found it terribly hard to pin it down electorally in the last six years.
In a country where a miniscule fraction of rich farmers, commission agents and middlemen have run Indian agriculture sector in a feudalistic manner for decades, and deprived more than 85 per cent of India’s farmers the choice of market freedom that resulted in hundreds of thousands of farmers committing suicide over the last few decades, sadly, a large section of India’s opposition political parties and even a section of media have found it more convenient to support those who want such monopolistic practices to continue than to be the voice of hundreds of millions of small farmers who would genuinely benefit from the new farm laws that would also unchain them from the stranglehold of the feudal farm lords and commission agents.
Resilient India is not Syria
It is true that India is not Syria and India’s resilience as a nation is unmatched. That is why neither the anti-CAA riots nor the Republic Day rampage got any support from the people of India. However, even though the rioters may have been shamed and cornered, they are still around, lurking in the hideouts and waiting for the next opportunity to spread mayhem. It is also true that India’s security agencies have shown tremendous restraint, be it during the Shaheen Bagh blockade, the anti-CAA riots or the rampage on Republic Day. The self-imposed restraint did take away from the anarchists the opportunity to take their conspiracy to the next level of nationwide violence, projecting the Government of India as ‘brutal’ and calling for international intervention to oust a democratically elected government, as it happened in Syria, followed by a civil war.
A Plan to Derail Investments
It is not that no damage has been done to India through these riots. From planned destruction of thousands of mobile towers to destruction of public properties in Delhi, to storming of Red Fort, to siege of Delhi and a concerted attempt to defame and vilify India’s top corporate houses, each of these acts of anarchy did get covered in media across the world. One has to realize that one of the key objectives of the anarchists and those with vested interests is to project India in such a manner that major investments don’t land here. In other words, there is a concerted attempt to defame India as an investment destination, especially when major efforts are being made by the Government of India to project India as a global manufacturing hub and offer India as a safe destination for investments to organizations who have been keen to shift their production base from China to India.
Also, barely recovering from the pandemic-related crisis, the siege of major arterial routes of Delhi by protestors has already led to Delhi-based business entities suffering losses estimated at over Rs 50,000 crore, which can literally force closure of many factories if the siege continues. And, this is exactly what India’s adversaries want.
A Template for Punitive Action
Therefore, while the Indian security agencies and the Government of India have shown tremendous restraint in the face of provocative violence, in order to prevent fatalities which can trigger a fresh cycle of violence, it also has to be kept in mind that India’s patience should not be misconstrued as its weakness. For a country which has successfully countered all kinds of misadventures of Pakistan and China, it has to show a similar resolve, and not just composure, to deal ruthlessly with anarchists and rabble-rousers, if push comes to shove. India therefore needs a new set of laws, which would stringently prohibit blockade of national highways or major arterial routes connecting cities, and would make rioters, and their family members pay for the damages caused to public properties or critical infrastructure. Unless exemplary punitive action is not taken, this template of mob violence, that has been witnessed not just in Delhi but in the US too, can set a dangerous precedent, only to be repeated often by vested interests to paralyse policymaking and economic activities in India.
This is a new dimension of conflict against which tanks and fighter aircraft cannot be deployed. India would have to ruthlessly deal with it in other ways and make sure that its aspiration of becoming a $10-trillion economy by 2030-32 is not derailed by a bunch of rabble-rousers and their plot to create an Arab Spring-type of anarchy to destroy India from within.