Net War in India: in the Context of Current Turbulence
Brig (Dr) Ashok Pathak (Retd.)
The Current Turbulence Relevant to India

The most visible events that impact the collective consciousness of Indian population today are connected with Sino Indian confrontation in the East, Pakistan sponsored proxy war post abrogation of Article 370- in the West, migration of Indian workers from economic hubs to their respective states of domicile and unprecedented global and economic downturn. All these add up to an uncertain future. It is not very easy to keep the hope and positive sentiments alive to discover silver lines in the dark clouds. For our adversaries it is that much easier to create a perception of doom, inefficiency, insecurity to break the will of the people and hence the leadership. Thus though the actual war has not commenced the ongoing net war has become intense.

Even in normal times India is susceptible to net war. Some of the primary reasons are strong currents of sub nationalism, existing concepts of liberalism that run counter to nationalism, prolonged tag of soft state, excessive procrastination and sub optimal political climate. During the last few years some of these shortcomings are in the process of being removed. This is seen as Indian attempt to create a new state of equilibrium. Hence the probing moves to test Indian resolve and strength of people-leadership dialectics. Our most valuable resources today are hope and positive thinking. This is where the adversaries will target us the most to create despondency and negative outlook towards the future state. The attacks will be based on our well known weak spots. It is in this context that we seek to scan the contours of net war in India.

Net War: Brief Description

To be on the same platform it will be prudent to describe net war. Arquilla and Rondfelt (1996) in Rand papers1 state, "Netwar includes conflicts waged, on the one hand, by terrorists, criminals, gangs, and ethnic extremists; and by civil-society activists -such as cyber activists or World Trade Organization (WTO) protestors, on the other." The authors go on to categorize net war in to chain, hub and all channel netwars. Of these the all channel type as per the authors is most complex. Since it uses social networks, militant and peace groups as also market oriented commercial predators working on different sub nationalism. Edward Waltz in ‘Information Warfare Principles and Operations’ (library of Congress) 2 considers netwar as a continuous process starting from peace time competition and moving across political/economic war, perception management, active hostilities below the nuclear threshold and finally in to the conflict termination. The Global Information Environment (GIE) provides the most fertile and cost effective ground for waging net war.

Before we lay dogmatic faith in these definitions that originated in the US based on American experience and perhaps American methods of selling concepts as prelude to selling weapon system it will be prudent to know that a lot has changed even in the American literature on Information War (IW) from the heady days of 1991, to not so exemplary performance in 2003 and later. The euphoria of IW peaked in 2004 and by 2015 it ebbed away.3Hence in case of India we can consider a simplified description of net war as ongoing activities in the global arena using the GIE with primary focus of shaping the perceptions of leadership, people, institutions and societies of target nations.4 This can be a state of despondency, communal or regional distrust and eroding the credibility of elected government as also critical institutions. It is launched to bring about desired behavior amongst the target society, political, military, institutional leadership. It exploits inherent fault lines in the target nation through Internet, electronic print and social media.

The conduct and orchestration of net war are generally complex, difficult to identify and respond. It is only when each activity is analyzed in detail that the real motive of the adversaries become clear. In most cases it creates internal threats abetted by external forces. The impact of net war can be felt on economic productivity, political orientation, and military capabilities. We may look at select trouble spots that lie in the quadrant of general weaknesses of strong sub nationalism and fragmentation within. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and abrogation of Article 370 exemplify this weakness.

Mainstream Print Media Reports from August 2019 to May 2020

President Donald Trump concluded his two days’ visit to India on 25 February 20. On 24 Feb communal riots erupted in the North East Delhi (India’s capital city). The US President during his press conference at Delhi faced some questions on this riot and his views on Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). He replied that the Indian PM is quite capable to address these in appropriate manner.5 The riots continued for more than 36 hours. More than 50 persons including two policemen lost their lives. More than 200 people were injured. Many properties were destroyed.6 These were the worst riots in the capital during the last two decades. The situation returned to some normalcy by 28 Feb 20.7 The principle opposition party went to the Indian President seeking the Home Minister’s resignation for failing to prevent the occurrence of these riots.8 Both the houses of Indian Parliament were disrupted for several days. International media expressed its concerns for the deteriorating conditions of minority communities in India.9 Most of the leading Newspapers in India blamed the police, central government and particularly the Indian Home Minister for the lapse.

On 10 January 20 the Times of India (TOI) a leading- Indian daily in English, quoted the Chief Justice of India (CJI) stating that ‘India is going through a difficult time’. The editorial pages of TOI as also of Economic Times (ET)- carried articles, ‘They Don’t Hate JNU, They Fear it’ by Anand Soondas of Times Group and ‘Mountain, No More Molehills’ by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay respectively. Both these English dailies painted a picture depicting serious threat to democracy/secularism in India.10 A girl holding a play card, ‘free Kashmir’ appeared on the front pages of several Indian newspapers. A more explicit slogan, Kashmir main dehashatgardi hai iske peechhe vardi hai’ (implying that it is the military which is responsible for terrorism in Kashmir) also appeared in the national press.11 These writings and proclamations were in the wake of some discontentment and agitations by a section of students in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in the national capital. The agitation was accompanied by occasional violence.12 The Indian English language print media leaned towards the agitating left wing students. The international media criticized the Indian police and law enforcement agencies for failing to safeguard the rights of students to protest.13

Just five days before this- 05 January 20, the national capital of India witnessed violent campus agitation in Jamia Milia Islamia University. The students here were agitating against the CAA. They pelted stones at the police. Some criminal elements of the society joined the bandwagon beating up the meager police force present in the area. This was followed by a massive police counter action. Police was seen beating students in the Jamia Milia Library. This triggered media hue and cry in many newspapers and electronic media against police excesses likening it to Nazi action and fascist approach.

Around the same time the Chief of Army Staff of Indian Army made a statement during a talk in an academic institution on leadership and observed that ‘inciting violence is not leadership’. The TOI published a sermon for the Chief to mind his own business and not to meddle in the political affairs. Many leaders of the opposition party joined the chorus.

On 14 December 19 the working president of the INC made a speech highlighting the poor condition of farmers, small entrepreneurs, banking sector, economy, lack of jobs and anti- constitutional CAA. She exhorted the large gathering to be prepared for any sacrifice (kurbani).14 On 15 December 19 a group of elderly women of Muslim community from nearby locality of Shaheen Bag sat on a dharana which blocked the Kalindi Kunj Road connecting sector 37 of Noida and entire Greater Noida to the national capital. Additional one lakh vehicles were forced to use detour per day.15 The diverted traffic started using a longer detour after the road was closed. The protestors were removed by the police on 24 March 20 in view of COVID-19 pandemic.16

On 5 August 19 the two houses of Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha the Lower house and Rajya Sabha the Upper House) authorized the Government of India (GoI) to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A paving the way for complete integration of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India.17 The main stream media- both print and electronic was stunned and shocked. Petitions were filed in the SC.18

These are some of the major events in India between August 2019 to May 2020 on which the Indian media focused its attention generally, against the elected and popular national government. The sentiments of the mainstream media were shared by Indian neighbour in the West with whom India had fought four major wars and is engaged in continuous proxy war since 1989. The echoes of events in India also reverberated in several other countries- China, the US, Malaysia, Turkey and the UK. Some of the US and British senators and parliamentarians spearheaded scathing attack on the Indian Government. There were reports in the Indian press that the United Nation Council on Human Rights (UNCHR) has filed a petition in the SC challenging the constitutional validity of the CAA. On 5 March 20, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran commented adversely on the Delhi riots (24 to 27 February 20). The sum total of all these rumblings with growing decibel levels was that since 2014 polarization of Indian society, attack on the Indian democracy, subversion of the constitution of India and dilution of her secular credentials have reached critical levels and everything that India stood for is under a serious threat.

Let us look at hard facts about these cases without any interpretations. A comparison with the facts and the reports that we read in the Newspapers and some TV debates will highlight the contours of net war.

Article 370 and 35A

The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir initially wanted to be independent of India and Pakistan. When the Pakistani raiders attacked the independent state of J&K on 22 October 1947, he panicked and requested India to save his kingdom. He agreed to accede to India. The then Indian PM delayed signing the instrument by a day. The Indian troops landed at Srinagar Airport on 26 October 47, just in time to save the airstrip from falling into the hands of the raiders. The first war between India and Pakistan commenced. The war (26 October 1947 to January 1949) was called off by the Indian PM and the matter was given to the UN Security Council. Most historians and all Indian military commanders feel that Indian forces were winning in January 1949. They would have captured the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir. The framing of the Constitutional provisions for the state of Jammu and Kashmir (in 1954) created confusion on the territorial extent of the Union of India. The first Sadar e Riasat (some what equivalent to the Prime Minister) of J&K initially supported accession of the state with India. After the Pakistanis were defeated he harped on independence from India as well as Pakistan and wanted an independent country. Within two years of the formation of the state conflict between the Indian secularism and Muslim sub nationalism surfaced in the state under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah. People in the state had been suffering due to excessive corruption, exclusion from the benefits provided to them by the Indian Constitution and laws enacted by the Indian Parliament. From 1989 to 05 August 2019 around 15000 security forces were martyred in J&K fighting the proxy war waged by Pakistan. The casualties to security forces were higher than the terrorists killed from 1989 to 2007. After 5 August 2019 there was 73 percent decline in the casualty to the security forces. Number of militants killed in J&K during this period is more than twelve times the casualties they have inflicted on the security forces and civilians. Article 370 and 35A were temporary provisions in the Constitutions. These were introduced in the Indian Constitution in a manner that can be described as ‘use of political cunning, lies and keeping self before the democratic process’. Three political leaders who have functioned as Chief Ministers of the state thought that the day this article is abrogated J&K will be free from Indian state, there will be blood bath in Kashmir. On 5 August 2019 the articles were removed without any of the threats materializing. 19,20,21,22,23,24,25

The CAA 2019

The constituent assembly of India wanted to build an integrated Indian fraternity. Hence the assembly provided for single citizenship. As per them the citizens of the Union and the States were entitled to same rights all over the country without any discrimination subject to a few special protections in case of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, tribal areas etc. Such ‘conditions’ in the Indian Constitution perhaps were expected to be temporary in the beginning. These became permanent aberrations with passage of time.

Under the British rule the entire territorial extent of India including the 565 princely states were under the British Empire. Every one living in this geographical area was a citizen of the British Indian colony. When the British left India was partitioned into India and Pakistan based on religion. Jinnah the head of Muslim League said, ‘It is a dream that Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality’.

Hence post-independence and partition, the citizens of the Indian subcontinent were divided between India and Pakistan as also among the princely states. While the problems of princely states (except Jammu and Kashmir) were resolved through astute handling by Sardar Patel the main issue between India and Pakistan became more complex. Thus first batch of migrants- Hindus and Sikhs moved over to India from the undivided part of Punjab in Pakistan (in March 1947). Around the same time some Muslims from Indian Punjab moved to the part of Punjab allotted to Pakistan. However, these Muslims who had moved to their new ‘home’ returned to India disappointed. Accordingly, the timeline for citizenship was shifted to July 1949. Thus at the time of framing relevant sections on citizenship in the Indian Constitution the citizenship of India was divided over two timelines; before and after July 1949. The Hindus and Sikhs who came to India from Pakistan were given citizenship immediately without any enquiry. However, for the Muslims who had moved over to Pakistan in 1947 and then came back before July 1949 were subjected to permit system. This was the first time where citizenship in India was linked with religion. There after many attempts were made for resolving the complex issue of citizenship issue in 1955, 1986, 2003 and 2005.

Accession of J&K, creation of Article 370 and 35A as a special provision for J&K, periodic resurgence of Muslim sub-nationalism, persecution of Kashmiri pandits in J&K, Pakistani sponsored terrorism in J&K consistently supported by the democratically elected government of the State are other issues that intensified anger and irritation in India.

As against Punjab where the citizenship was decided through a combination of religious affinity and permit system partition of Bengal created a bigger problem. The first set of migrations took place in 1947 at the time of partition. There after the migration of people from the erstwhile East Pakistan continued between 1971 to 1991 and 1991 to 2014. These migrations took place due to economic, political and religious reasons. For obvious reasons these migrants settled down in the adjoining Indian states of Assam and West Bengal (Indian part of the divided Bengal). In 2001 about one third of the Assamese population (33.8 millions) consisted of these immigrants. Bulk of these immigrants is Muslims. From 1971 to 2001 the Muslim population in this part of India increased from one billion to around 1.7 billion. The Hindu migrant population increased from 3.5 million to 8.2 million. Most of these are illegal entrants into India. Overall the estimate of illegal Muslim migrants to India range from 2.3 million to 20 million. Besides the North East there are large number of illegal Muslim immigrants in Maharashtra (especially Mumbai) and Rajasthan. In addition, forty thousand Rohingya Muslims too have migrated to India from Myanmar. The Government of India has firmly rejected the proposal to grant citizenship to the Rohingya Muslims.

Reflecting on the human misery inflicted by the partition, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad observed that those representing the people (INC and the League) endorsed a catastrophic decision which was not supported by one hundred percent Hindus and overwhelming majority of Muslims.

The Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 does not include any provision that will empower the Indian Government to revoke the citizenship of any Indian citizen including the Muslims who are already Indian citizens. At the same time the Act allows automatic grant of citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis who have migrated to India due to religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. 26,27,28,29,30,32,32,33,34,35

Migrant Workers
How is this Being Reported

The event is being reported to highlight the pathetic conditions under which the migrant workers are trekking back to their home states. Picture of a small child trying to playfully wake up his dead mother whom he thought to be asleep went viral. The news was carried by almost all newspapers and electronic media36,37,38. A number of migrant workers died in road accidents. The figure varies from 24 to 42 39,40. In addition 16 workers died on the railway tracks near Aurangabad in Maharashtra41. This is a grim picture since around a billion migrant workers have either moved back or are in the process of returning from their respective places of work to their respective home states. Undoubtedly, it is an unprecedented event. Spread of COVID-19 added to the misery and complexities.

The judiciary too got involved in the debate with the top courts taking ‘suo moto’ notice and the Solicitor General fighting the case on behalf of the government. Newspaper editorials and selected experts passed their own judgement linking the issue with the right wing politics.42,43The situation is grim and ripe for being used for propaganda and net war. More so since the public memory is short and most of us choose the easy way out to form quick opinions based on what we hear and read. Further, with a pessimist disposition negative news looks more creditable even if it depicts half-truths. This is where net war becomes so effective. It may be prudent to look at the issue based on some more facts and legacy of current environment.

Facts and the Legacy of Migrant Workers

The movement of migrants is closely linked with the India’s economic growth since independence. In 1947 India emerged amongst some of the poorest nations in the world. For next two and a half decades we continued to add higher percentage of citizens below the poverty line. 44Migration for work has been a continuous process even after liberalization of economy. The data from 1991 to 2001 suggests that labour continued to move away from home to different parts of the country that provided some jobs.45

India’s economic structure in farms and factories is fragmented, inefficient and primitive. An estimated 63.4 million non-agricultural unincorporated enterprises (excluding construction) contribute Gross Value Added (GVA) of Rs 11.5 trillion where as 189,468 registered factories generate GVA of Rs. 11.6 trillion46. As per Grant Thorton FICCI Report 2011 on MSME Vision 2020, MSMEs contributed 8 percent of the GDP in 2011. There were a total of 28.5 Million enterprises in 2011, of these a whopping 94 percent were in non -registered segment. Thus in 2011 only 6 percent of MSMEs were registered46

After nine years the MSME sector changed for the better. As per Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) report of 2020 the number grew to 63.4 million MSMEs. These contribute around 30 percent to India’s GDP- up from 8 percent in 2011.47MSMEs account for 33.4 percent of India’s manufacturing sector. In 2020, 14.1 percent of MSMEs are registered (90 lakhs registered MSMEs). Thus an increase of 8 percent in registered number of MSMEs, whereas the total number of MSMEs grew by 125 percent.48

Conclusion: Fighting Back and Pursuing the Bright Future

Besides the above mentioned areas of frictions within external threat by China has emerged as a major factor for the last few days. Pakistan too is active on the Western borders. In the prevailing environment there are five major objectives of net war being pursued by our traditional adversaries. First, weaken the faith of the people in their elected government and critical institutions. Second, create an environment of despondency among the people and organizations helping the government in fighting the current situation. Third, break the will of the political leadership by magnifying the problems. Fourthly coerce the relevant leadership to give in and behave in manner that suits the adversary. Finally placate their respective populations or constituencies by playing up own success in subduing India

India’s response to this net war can be based on five pillars. First, establish truthful and effective communication between people and leadership so that internal and external propaganda and lobbies are exposed. It is very critical to note that truth is much more powerful, enduring and credible in short as well as long run. The pictures and facts about the plight of migrant workers are real. These must not be brushed aside as ‘it happens in such a large operation in the face of uncertainty’. Candid admission and honest corrections are much more effective communications than any amount of ‘spin’ or alibi. We need to remember how Cable News Network (CNN) lost all credibility in the Second Gulf War in 2003 after being so popular in the First Gulf War in 1991.49 Second, address the root causes of various problems without getting swayed by the ripples on the surface. Stay the course with determination and resolve ignoring myopic gains. Fourthly wage counter net war on the adversaries using GIE and international relations. Finally, we need to realize that during the last six years India has challenged the status quo and has set to achieve a new state of equilibrium. We need to clearly see the desired state of equilibrium regionally as also globally when we are operationalizing all the plans.

End Notes
  2. Edward Waltz Information Warfare Principles and Operations Artech House Boston, London Library of Congress in Publishing Data ISBN 0-89006-511-X, 1998
  3. Ashok Pathak India’s Strategies for Information War and Cyber Deterrence( page 33)Vitasta ( VIF publication) ISBN 978-93-86473-87-5 New Delhi February 2020
  4. Ibid 3. (page 32)
  5. riots, again: India’s international image will take a beating. Douse Delhi fires before they spread ToI 26 Feb accessed on 28 Feb 20
  6. Violence in Delhi was part of familiar playbook Indian Express 5 March 20 Accessed on 28 March 20
  7. Minimum Government on Breakdown of Governance in Delhi The Hindu 29 Feb 20 Accessed on 02 March
  8. Read them the Riot Act On Police Inaction During Delhi Violence The Hindu 06 March Accessed on 10 March
  9. Memories of Another Riot: Lessons not learnt Asian Age 13 March 20. Accessed on 17 March 20
  10. The Times of India 10 January 20
  11. The Economics Time 10 January 20
  12. JNU Violence More Questions than Answers The ToI 08 January 20. * Accessed 12 Jan20)
  13. Behind Campus Attack in India Some see a far Right Agenda NY Times 10 January 20.
  14. It is time to rise save the country its democracy: Sonia Gandhi Reported in The Hindu 14 December 19 (Accessed 3 March 20)
  17. Law and Opinion on SC Taking up the Kashmir Special Issue, The apex court should decide on Kashmir without being swayed by the popular mood The Hindu 30 August 19(Accessed 10 March 20)
  18. Rupture in History Stitching in Future Indian Express 06 August 19(Accessed 10 March 20)
  19. Abrogation of Article is Illegal the Ongoing Lockdown is Unsustainable written by P B Sawant up dated on 27 Sep 19, in Indian Express, 28 March 20. (Accessed 10 March 20)
  21. 10 March 20)
  22. 10 March 20)
  23. Maj Gen Sheru Thapliyal, PhD Issue Vol 26.1 Jan-Mar 2011 | Date : 14 Feb , 2019(Accessed 10 March 20)
  24. 13 March 20)
  25. (Accessed 13 March 20)
  26. Deka December 23, 2011(Accessed 13 March 20)
  27. 15 March 20)
  28. 15 March 20)
  29. Accessed on 15 March 2020)
  30. Illegal Migration and Strategic Challenges: A Case ... – Journals › index.php › artha › article ›
    Artha-Journal of Social Sciences 2019, Vol. 18, No. 4, 25-42 ISSN 0975-329X|https://doi: 10.12724/ajss.51.2 Illegal Migration and Strategic Challenges: A Case Study of Undocumented Migration from Bangladesh to India M Mayilvaganan*(Accessed 15 March 20)
  31. 15 March 20)
  32. 17March 20)
  33. 17March 20)
  34. Maulana AbulKalam Azad League losing to the Unionists (Pp 139 General Elections)
  35. Subhash C Kashyap Our Constitution An Introduction to India’s Constitution and Constitutional law, National Book Trust ISBN 978-81-237-0734-1 New Delhi 2011
  41. Indian Express dated 31 May, page 10, ‘They cannot control polity through court’ Ravi Shankar Prasad the Union Law Minister
  42. Indian Express dated 31 May page 14, ‘Labor Laws and muffled voice of 93%’ by SurakYengde
  43. Ashok Pathak India’s Strategies for Information War and Cyber Deterrence , page 240 Vitasta Publishing New Delhi (VIF) 2020 ISBN 9789386473875
  45. C D Sahay (Editor) VIF Perspective ‘A Political Approach to Reclaiming India’ Article by Ananth Nageswaran ‘ The Indian Economy : Casting Away the Structural Chain’ Pp 50 Published Vitasta Publishing New Delhi 2019 ISBN 978-93-86473-38-7
  46. (Accessed on 16 May 20)
  47. Accessed on 16 May 20)
  48. Accessed on 16 May 20)
  49. Ibid 3, pages 22, 25

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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