As an Indian national who spent my last two years in a North American country, I often think and wonder about the relationship between the security establishments including police and the common people of this land. I have neither witnessed a low profile individual scared of the police, hesitant to reach out to them for help, nor the security establishment being involved in their day-to-day life. However, to be frank, I still feel a ‘sense of fear’ towards the police which I believe has been inherited from my mother country, India. I am sure, I am no exception. Perhaps, this sense of fear dates back to the British raj era when India was under the jurisdiction of colonial powers. Majority of the Indian middle class people are unwilling to approach the security establishment for any help. Some critics comment that the Indian police are still in colonial hangover. Lathi charge still has daily shows in India.
Many of you couldn’t agree more on the fact that the recent happenings in India has made its “world’s largest democracy” status to swing on hinges. In his 2021 book, ‘The Silent Coup’ Josy Joseph, an Indian investigative journalist unveils a chilling account on the history of India’s deep state. To be frank, the writer’s findings and conclusions were quite unsurprising in the present scenario, perhaps due to the familiarity with many news stories and features in bits and pieces, but what makes the book exceptional is the solid narration based on conclusive evidences on how the political fraternity and the security establishment including military, police, intelligence bureaus and investigative agencies are intertwined, which is supposed to remain as independent entities.
Apparently, the book as a whole, is a series of coverages on national security issues of India, along its length and breadth, though it could be applicable to many other countries. It discusses about the increasing evidences of the brand-new gravest threat to the post-independent Indian state-the subversion of democracy by the ruling elites of the security establishments who are duty-bound to protect it. When I say security establishments, these include the police, the intelligence agencies, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), and a handful of allied agencies such as Enforcement Directorate (ED), Income Tax Department which are also key-players. For many of us, these are a group of people in thriller movies who have been overwhelmingly glorified giving us goosebumps with mass back ground scores. But The Silent Coup blasts all of those stigmas. With facts, it enables the reader to think about how can such a small group of people, located mostly in a single city such as Mumbai or Delhi manipulate democratic values, terrorise and suppress the common, send them to jail, turning media into propaganda machines and that’s not the worst of it-converting judiciary into a puppet institution. Having that said, the book may sound like a merely anti-BJP (the ruling party) or Anti-Modi anecdote, but it is not. The harbingers of India’s deep state model traces back into the deeds of all post-independence governments. In fact, it was the Congress party that had sketched the blueprint to manipulate security establishment for political gains, the politics of Indira Gandhi and then Rajiv Gandhi, as Joseph Joseph elaborates.
The Silent Coup chooses the journey of an unfortunate Muslim citizen named Wahid to exemplify and amplify the gravity of religious and political persecution of innocent Muslims, who was one of the falsely accused in a bomb blast case. He had to spend years behind bars for no reason, some who were caught along with him were killed by framing them as terrorists. It is disheartening to say that this dirty model, of creating a fake incident or a terrorist, is what the Indian security establishments follow till date. Many high-profile officers in security establishments rose to higher thrones at the cost of several innocent lives. Far too much of India’s resources have been invested in tracking Islamic terrorism, but it is indisputable that some of its deadliest enemies have been secular Maoists, Hindus or Christians. The author also discusses the result of this bias in terms of the visible near-absence of Muslims in the ranks of the security establishment and the concept of “no right-wing Hindutva bombers existed”. The Special Protection group (SPG) excludes Sikhs. With that note, the interesting chapter “Meet the Bombers” comes, where the author made a brave attempt to name several right-wing terrorists and political figures, important profiles among them being Pragya Singh Thakur, and her role in Malegaon blasts, Amit Shah and so on. The author also accounts how the security establishment operated towards their acquittal. Needless to say that where are they now, Pragya Singh Thakur is now a member of the Lok Sabha and Amit Shah is currently serving as the Minister of Home Affairs.
There is an insightful account on how the security establishment deals with informers. The status and fate of the “informers” are often questionable. Underscoring what we have seen in movies, Josy Joseph verifies that most of the informers lose their lives in the process of maintaining national security. Since our security establishment lacks a defined protocol for someone to qualify as an informant, often informants of poor integrity and with vested interests are chosen. There is no effort to process information for accuracy or to rank informants by their credibility. This results in trusting bogus informants. This is not peculiar to Indian system though. Many of these informants have even been later made into bogus terrorists and exploited in fake encounters, unless they don’t provide what the agencies want. The book reminds us how a seemingly unharmful fake news can cost several lives. Unsurprisingly, poor Muslims are targeted in this “informer” process.
The book also systematically elaborates on how insurgency was conceived in Punjab and the way it was brutally supressed, the classic Kashmir valley issues and how the security establishment repeatedly and violently pushed an average Kashmiri away from the idea of India, the infamous “Gujarat Model”, turbulences in the Northeast and India’s role in the Sri Lankan civil war and associated “our boys” concept of Indian peace Keeping Force (IPKF). Taking LTTE as a case study, the author sharply discusses the failure of India in Sri Lanka. A security establishment must be bias-free and must clearly understand the ground reality. Hence the root cause of the Indian establishment failure was its repeated ignorance of the fact that violence is secular.
The author also reminds the readers that this is not a military-part issue or the problem of states with international borders. The deep state works at a pan-Indian level, and the non-military parts of the security establishments are challenging the constitutional rights of the citizens. Our history of misused draconian laws such as TADA, POTA, MCOCA, AFSPA and UAPA serve as examples. If not, at least an average Indian afraid of dealing with the police is telling a fact. The Silent Coup brings to the table the fact that when the professionalism of the security establishment is put to a test, or when uncomfortable questions are asked, a part of the security establishment will come forward to defend and stand for their institution. That said, oppression becomes a new normal. It is quite obvious for one to feel pessimistic after finishing this book and wonder where India’s security establishment and future democracy are heading. However, it is reasonable to believe that accounts like this could be an eye opener for the next generation bureaucrats, judiciaries and political establishments and that we still are left with a ray of hope.