March 30, 2020
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The Subliminal War

A subtle analysis of militancy and media's unconscious motives KASHMIR DIARY

The Subliminal War
Kashmir Diary : Psychology Of Militancy
By Arjun Ray
Manas Pages: 213; Rs 495
INDIA'S military establishment has traditionally prided itself on its apolitical stand—which has led observers to label them the guardian angels of India's democracy. In reality, it was at Nehru's insistence that the Indian armed forces were kept outside the policy process. But in the last two decades, as India's military men have repeatedly been called out to counter internal threats to India's integrity, thinking soldiers have been prompted to begin understanding the various dimensions of the politico-military conflicts that threaten the very integrity of India. And this thought-provoking book by Arjun Ray—a serving Indian army general—is a case in point.

But unlike historical accounts that soldiers often write, here is a man who speaks in the manner of an officer who was neither in conflict with his job, nor with his understanding of the situation of Kashmir. Ray feels that as the information agencies in Kashmir have been marginalised, it is left to the security forces to fight the information war. But he is also aware that "what is being done in the name of our information battle is, to put it mildly, disjointed and amateurish". Pakistan is orchestrating every available means in its campaign to disseminate disinformation—a fact substantiated by the author with data on Pakistani radio and TV news broadcasts as well as popular programmes.

Arjun Ray has, in fact, specialised on media issues in low-intensity conflicts like that in Kashmir, and he makes some interesting observations—for example "bad news is good news, and good news is boring". True. Furthermore, he also maintains that "the media romanticises the militant because militancy makes good copy" and because the "mediamen have their compulsions". But while he disapproves of the blatant anti-India bias of the local media, the national media-except for DD and AIR—comes out with flying colours as a watchdog over authority. In comparison, the author finds that the BBC'S subtle slant in favour of the Kashmiris, and its hiring of stringers—who earn large sums and have militant leanings-have led to a loss of credibility. Such insights and penetrating views put this book in a class of its own.

The unique nature of the book lies, however, in its insight into the mind of the militants. Having interacted with captured militants, Ray is convinced that "Kashmiri militancy is not a religious movement yet, and therefore Islam is not the prime motivation for a Kashmiri to pick up the gun". This certainly contradicts Pakistan's version. But General Ray insists that "militants are not criminals or psychopaths or men with twisted minds...militants simply want people looking at them, they don't want too many people dead". And he has reached his conclusion by psychoanalysing captured militants. Equally interesting is some other data furnished in the book-ranging from percentages of pro-militancy content in the vernacular press (at 19 to 42 per cent) to the average time allocated for the mullah's speeches during Friday prayers (37 per cent of the time for anti-India propaganda as against 36 per cent of the time for prayers).

The breadth of the author's reading is visible in the wide range of quotations liberally splashed across the text, but this could have been avoided, as he makes his point well enough by his qualitative research—though on an odd occasion he does repeat himself. The larger question that emerges from the publication of this book is whether serving soldiers should be allowed to candidly express their views on such issues. The answer is strongly in the affirmative. Because, in this electronic age of information warfare, it is better for the military to speak responsibly, without compromising on security issues. Besides, the ambiguous silence of the military establishment at a time when the people want more information leads to confusion, as self-styled experts then begin speculating.

A great deal of the literature available on Kashmir is propagandist, and it is refreshing to read the Kashmir Diary, which is a welcome break from the military's establishment's traditional silence on sensitive issues. Arjun Ray's Kashmir Diary arouses the readers' interest because it is perhaps the first account by a military officer about an active conflict that he was actively engaged in, and about a conflict that continues. The author has put together an unusual study on the militants, the media and the military role in Kashmir with the help of data collected by him as the brigadier general staff of 15 Corps-a brigadier coordinating military operations in the Valley. And it must be read, as its contents inject fresh thoughts that will help us break ground on a subject that defies an acceptable solution.

(Maroof Raza is the author of Wars and No Peace Over Kashmir)

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