February 21, 2020
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Smog Of War

Was it a big C (coup) attempt by an army faction or a big D (disinformation) campaign by somebody else?

Smog Of War
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Of late, the Delhi air has been thick not only with pollution—climatic as well as of the moral kind—but also with intrigue and skulduggery. The forecast has never been more dire, darkening deep in the latest reports about so-called spooky troop movements towards the capital in the foggy winter night of January 16-17. Everything seems mired in opacity: the spider web of corruption that binds national and transnational business interests, bureaucracy, military, media and politics in the UPA-II regime, and its cut-throat cloak-and-dagger culture, consumes all. The repressive measures against open dissemination of facts, the dirty tricks and the play of disinformation that currently characterise India’s public life is of a scale and intensity never seen before. The lesser children of India—the populations resisting eviction from their homes and resource bases in the hinterland; the minorities aspiring for their share in India’s growth; the activists fighting corruption or questioning the environmental impact of government policies, say on a nuclear reactor—were anyway condemned. But now, as a zero sum game plays out between the top echelons of the army and various arms of government, all ostensibly working against each other, the blight seems to have infected the very top.

Information, its control and manipulation, is at the heart of the game. It started with the news about the NTRO intercepting phone conversations of senior ruling party politicians. Ever since, we’ve had an avalanche of revelations. Mostly, in the preferred mode of the electronic age, it has come in the shape of recordings—genuine, doctored or even held out as a threat, as with the alleged bugging of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s office. The latest, however, was a curious throwback to an earlier age: letters and conversations. First, there was the one-to-one talk, confirmed by both sides, between army chief General V.K. Singh and his defence minister A.K. Antony. Then, the outing of the chief’s letter to the prime minister. But whatever the technological level at which things were conducted, the effect was the same: a miasma of suspicion and mistrust, a fog of war. At the end of it all, we don’t know who is conspiring with whom; who is tapping whose conversation; who is leaking selective facts about somebody; why somebody times a statement in a particular way. So with this report about troop movements—was it a big C (coup) attempt by an army faction or a big D (disinformation) one by somebody else?

Such an atmosphere of palace intrigues and skulduggery at the highest level has a sinister political meaning for the rights of the aam aadmi, though it may not be immediately apparent. There is an insidious anti-democratic edge to it. The survival instincts of both—the persecuted and the parasites of the system—might make them look elsewhere now, even at authoritarian superheroes to pull them out of this misery and morass. We can’t say what slow beast now slouches towards Delhi to be born.

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