The Idea of Bharat – In the Line of Fire, In the Age of Hybrid Warfare
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‘Wars have ceased to become effective instruments to achieve political and military objectives. They are too expensive, unaffordable, and there is uncertainty about outcome. It is the civil society that can be subverted, divided and manipulated to hurt the interest of the nation’ (1).
This comment by Ajit Doval, current National Security Advisor to the Government of India, in his address at the National Police Academy in Hyderabad in November 2021, set the cat among the pigeons. There was outrage from several quarters where, in what seems to be now a terminally inconclusive debate, this was seen as an attempt by an increasingly authoritarian government to curb dissent (2). That Article 19-2 of the Constitution of India permits reasonable restrictions on freedom of expression (3) and that ignoring the paradox of tolerance could mean the end of a tolerant society, was perhaps conveniently ignored by this legion of the outraged.
In a 2022 visit to the US, External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar called for an appreciation of India as a “civilization-state” and as a democratic polity. It is this sense of civilizational unity which underwrites the socio-political stability of the Republic of India. This is symbolized in the description of Bharat as a “rashtra,” a depiction which predates the coinage of the word “nation” in Europe. Whether Bharat is a nation in the restricted European sense of the term, especially given the manifold diversity within Bharat, is a topic which has helped many a researcher in political science earn her degree.
Threats to Bharat’s Civilizational Unity
Proselytizing faiths with supremacist and exclusivist claims cause converts to become culturally self-alienated. In post-1947 India, such conversion campaigns were significantly successful, and have often been the harbinger of separatist movements, with some even calling for secession. The war cry of the Naga National Council, precursor to the separatist movement in Nagaland, was “Nagaland for Christ” (4). Notwithstanding this, efforts to save the hell-bound souls of idol-worshipping Hindu heathens have continued unabated, duly protected by Article 25 of the Constitution of India, which grants the right to practice, profess and propagate religion (5). Then Pope John Paul II had publicly expressed the hope in New Delhi in 1999 that just as the first millennium saw the cross firmly planted in Europe, the second in Africa and America, the third Christian millennium would witness the same in Asia (6). US-based Joshua Project maintains a database of various ethnic groups globally, with the fewest followers of evangelical Christianity, to support Christian missionary work. India lies in a region termed as the 10/40 window, an area between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north, described as a stronghold of Satan (7).
Earlier this year, on February 2, the Anti-Terrorist Squad in Maharashtra filed a charge-sheet in a local court against five members of the Popular Front of India, now banned by the Government of India. The charge sheet stated that the Popular Front of India aimed to establish the “rule of Islam” in India by 2047 and had plans to obtain weapons with the help of foreign countries or other organizations to help achieve its target (8).
While such aggressive conversion drives continue to undermine the civilizational unity of Bharat, this is now also increasingly under attack by certain state and transnational actors. No stone is being left unturned by them in both manufacturing new and deepening existing fault lines within Bharat, and towards achieving certain ideological, geo-political or economic goals.
In the early 1800’s, military strategist Clausewitz had defined war as an act to force to compel our enemy to do our will (9). In a 1989 Marine Corps Gazette article, American theorist William Lind along with other co-authors, first proposed the framework of “generational warfare” and introduced the term “Fourth Generation Warfare”. He mentioned that 4G warfare would be characterised by a focus on internal collapse of the enemy, rather than on physical destruction. The attack would be on enemy’s culture and on compromising population support for the war. The distinction between war and peace or between civilian and military would all start to become blurred. Sophisticated psychological warfare through all forms of media would be the norm. Threats to Bharat in such a scenario, were highlighted by Ajit Doval in his lectures delivered way back in 2010, much before his appointment as the National Security Advisor in 2014 (11).
General Mattis, US Secretary of Defense (2017-2019) had remarked in 2009 that the United States would have to fight 21st century wars in “hybrid conditions”. He emphasized the need to maintain focus on mixed-type warfare and to make irregular war a core competency (12). In recent years, many major powers have adapted their military doctrines to specifically address hybrid warfare.
The International Security Advisory Board, under the US Department of State came out with a report on “Grey Zone Conflict” in 2017. It defined “Grey Zone” as the use of techniques to achieve a nation’s goals by employing asymmetric and ambiguous instruments of power that are not direct use of acknowledged regular military forces. These include manipulation and discrediting of democratic institutions, including the electoral system and the judiciary (13).
The Communist Party of China and the Central Military Commission approved the concept of “Three Warfares” in 2003, an official information warfare strategy. It deals with coordinated deployment of psychological warfare, media warfare, and legal warfare (13).
The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation-2014 identifies subversive information activities against the population and the provoking of social tensions as a key internal military risk (13).
The Ministry of Defence of the UK commissioned a project on “Countering the Hybrid Threat” under the Multinational Capability Development Campaign (MCDC) in 2016-17. The project report describes how hybrid warfare entails use of instruments of power like military, political, economic, civil, and information (MPECI) to exploit the various vulnerabilities of the adversary — such as political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, and information (PMESSI) (13).
Source: MCDC Countering Hybrid Warfare Project Report, P. 13
Indian Army’s Land Warfare Doctrine of 2018 too characterizes future conflicts as operating in an ambiguous “grey zone” where nations are neither at peace nor at war. Its prognosis is that the nature of wars will be hybrid, a blend of the conventional and the unconventional, varying from non-contact to contact warfare (13).
Hybrid Wars and Bharat
In this essay we try to make the case that the manufactured protests, witnessed during Prime Minister Modi’s post-2019 second term, can be better understood from the prism of hybrid war against Bharat. There was a strong element of disinformation, both in the national and international media, which soon assumed a Hinduphobic dimension. Apart from creating a crisis of legitimacy for the Modi government, the endeavor was to portray that policies guided by recognition of Bharat as a civilizational entity would be inherently oppressive towards “minorities”.
Also, many ordinary Indian citizens who had to put up with extensive inconvenience repeatedly expressed their frustration as the government did not seem to be dealing with the protesters illegally blockading the streets firmly. When viewed as a theatre of hybrid war, such situations warrant a different approach from an alert government. A heavy-handed response leading to the likely death of a few protestors would have implied handing to the adversary on a platter the chance to unleash a psychological-media war.
On December 11, 2019, the Parliament of India passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to fast-track citizenship for religious minorities, specifically Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who entered India prior to 2015. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) referred to it as a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction” (14). The same USCIRF on its website advertises a program created under the Lautenberg-Specter Amendment which fast-tracks refugee applications from some minority religious groups in the former Soviet Union countries and Iran (15). Is this double-standard due to an innocent oversight or is it on account of disinformation in the service of a hybrid war campaign?
While the CAA had no bearing on any Indian citizen, a propaganda was unleashed both nationally and internationally, alleging that the Act would deprive Indian Muslims of their citizenship. At the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2020, billionaire George Soros made the atrocious claim that Prime Minister Modi was creating a “Hindu nationalist state” by threatening to deprive millions of Muslims of their citizenship (16).
That the protests, ostensibly in the name of “protecting Indian constitutional values,” had a Hinduphobic dimension was clear from the report of journalist Barkha Dutt on December 16, 2019 (17). The Facebook posts of one of the protestors hailed as a “shero” in the report proclaimed her as having abandoned secularism (18). The post also eulogized Ali Musliyar who, during the Moplah massacre in the Malabar region in 1921, was responsible for preaching jihad and for ethnic cleansing of Hindu families, including women and children (19). The unfortunate culmination of such disinformation and Hinduphobia was witnessed during the 2020 Delhi riots. In a recent conviction of nine accused, the judge observed that all were part of an unruly mob which had the common object of causing maximum damage to the properties of persons belonging to the Hindu community (20).
The so-called “farmer protests” against the three farm laws passed by the Indian Parliament in September 2020 followed a similar trajectory. The protests commenced in the state of Punjab soon after the President of India gave his assent to the Farm Bills. By December 2020, thousands of protestors sitting-in on the roads had blocked many entry points to Delhi (21). Even if grant that the protestors may have had valid concerns that the farm laws would have led to the dismantling of the MSP (minimum support mechanism), what deserved unequivocal condemnation was the vandalism witnessed at Delhi’s Red Fort on January 26, 2021, the Indian Republic Day (22). Protestors driving tractors broke police barriers and pulled down the Indian flag at the Red Fort. Over 300 policemen were injured (23). Prior to this, the banned Khalistani group — SFJ (Sikhs for Justice) — had announced an award of USD 250,000 for those who would hoist the Khalistani flag at the Red Fort on Republic Day (24). What was interesting was that the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi had ordered for 26 ambulances on the eve of Republic Day to support the protestors (25). Was the Aam Aadmi Party in the know of protestors’ intentions to violate the agreement with Delhi Police? Was it hoping for a police crackdown and have made-to-order videos of injured protesters, which could then be used to run a negative campaign against the Government of India?
A protest in the name of farmers had morphed into secessionist calls for Khalistan, with Hinduphobic slogans being raised. On the propaganda front, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, in a February 3, 2021 tweet, expressed support for the farmer protests. She also attached a toolkit in her tweet, which she later replaced with another, as a how-to guide for protestors. It had pointers on creating twitterstorms and holding protests outside Indian embassies. The Ministry of External Affairs was forced to release a statement highlighting that facts needed to be ascertained first and that vested interests were trying to mobilize international support against India (26).
In December 2020, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an unwarranted statement said that Canada had made known its concerns to the Indian Government and that Canada supported the people’s right to peaceful protests. Of course, this virtue signalling was very conveniently forgotten during the 2022 trucker protests in Canada, when the Emergency Act was imposed by the Trudeau government (27).
After Prime Minister Modi withdrew the Farm Laws in November 2021, the finding of a Supreme Court of India appointed panel in March 2022 was that 86 percent of farmer groups supported the three repealed laws (28). So, small and marginal farmers lost out. Thousands of common citizens had to put with the inconvenience of a road blockade around Delhi for a year. And farm laws, which according to IMF had the potential to raise farm income (29) and which also found a place as an agricultural reform measure in the 2019 election manifesto of the Indian National Congress (30), were rolled back. The question then is, who eventually gained from this propaganda-fuelled protest? We shall leave the reader to ponder over this.
In a 2022 judgment, the Supreme Court of India dismissed an appeal against Prime Minister Modi in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots. The Bench said that those involved in keeping the pot boiling with false revelations and ulterior motives needed to face the law (31). Come January 2023, the BBC released a documentary raising questions about Narendra Modi’s leadership during the 2002 Gujarat riots (32). For an organization whose charter states its commitment to provide impartial news, the BBC was quite partial to untruth — as the testimonies offered in the BBC documentary were those which had already been dismissed by the Indian Supreme Court.
In an interview after the Government of India banned the documentary, calling it a propaganda piece, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that the documentary was in fact “politics by other means”. He cautioned the viewers that while the General Elections in India were scheduled for 2024, election season had already commenced in London and New York.
Hybrid warfare, aimed at influencing the outcome of the 2024 General Election, might just be the flavor of the season.
The question then arises — how do we build deterrence against and counter these hybrid war threats? Strategic experts mention adopting a holistic “all of government” approach and of developing a comprehensive security strategy covering military, economic, social, and digital domains and beyond, if need be.
What is more important is for the citizenry to be fully invested in what is called a “whole of society” approach. It entails building resilience, having a strong national will, sharing certain core socio-political values, and last not but not the least, promotion of media literacy as a key civic virtue.
We all have to do our bit. The Republic of Bharat is for Bharatiyas to keep and protect.
- Times of India (November 13, 2021). “Subverting civil society a new frontier of war: NSA Ajit Doval,”
- Venu, M.K., & Mirchandani, M. (November 29, 2021). “Locating Pegasus in Doval’s Civil Society as New Frontier of War,” The Wire,
- Pradhan, N. “Constitution of India — Freedom of Speech and Expression,” Legal Service India e-Journal,
- Yeputhomi, I.K.S. (April 28, 2017). “Nagaland for Christ,” The Morung Express,
- Constitution of India. Article 25
- Goldenberg, S. (November 8, 1999). “Pope heralds mission to convert Asia,” The Guardian,
- Joshua Project. “What is the 10/40 Window?”
- Press Trust of India (February 09, 2023). “Banned Group PFI wanted to turn India into Islamic State by 2047: Anti-terror Body,” NDTV,
- Clausewitz, C.V. (1989). On War. Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press. http://www.clausewitz.com/readings/OnWar1873/BK1ch01.html
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- Gazebo the Mirror. (2010, June 28). “IB-Head Shri Ajit Doval’s Lecture,” 7:08
- Kruzel, J. J. (February 13, 2009). “General Mattis: US must Prepare for ‘Hybrid’ Warfare,” Small Wars Journal,
- Basu, S. (2021). Changing Character of Hybrid Warfare: The Threat to India. Pentagon Press. page 26, 27, 30, 31, 36
- House of Lords Library. “India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019: Research Briefing,”
- Lautenberg Program Fact Sheet. https://refugees.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Lautenberg-Program-Fact-Sheet-9.7.2022.pdf
- Burton, K., & Porzecanski, K. (January 25, 2020). “At Davos, Billionaire George Soros’ Bit Attack on PM Modi,” NDTV,
- Barkha Dutt (December 17, 2019). [Twitter].
- Sona Mohapatra (December 17, 2019). [Twitter].
- Wikipedia. “Ali Musliyar,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ali_Musliyar
- Press Trust of India (March 14, 2023). Court Convicts 9 in 2020 Delhi Riots Case. NDTV,
- Mahajan, A. S. (December 01, 2020). “What agitating farmers want, and why the Centre may not oblige,” India Today, https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/what-agitating-farmers-want-and-why-the-centre-may-not-oblige-1745475-2020-11-30
- Times of India (December 08, 2020). “What are new farm laws and why farmers are protesting,”
- Paliwal, A. (January 27, 2021). “Farmer leaders betrayed Delhi Police, 394 cops injured, 19 arrests made: Commisioner,” India Today,
- Sehgal, M. (January 13, 2021). “Khalistan terror group SFJ instigated farmers in Delhi to remove tricolour on Republic Day,” India Today,
- Aam Aadmi Party (January 26, 2021). [Twitter].
- Deccan Herald (February 05, 2021). “Greta Thunberg faces backlash after ‘toolkit’ tweet: Key things to know,”
- Mohan, G. (February 17, 2022). “Follow PM Modi’s example of handling farmer’s protest: Canada-India Forum to Trudeau,” India Today,
- India Today (March 21, 2022). “SC reveals panel’s report; claims 86% farmers supports three repealed Laws,”
- Press Trust of India (January 15, 2021). “Farm laws have potential to represent significant step forward for agriculture reforms in India: IMF,” The Times of India,
- The Hindu (September 19, 2020). “Congress justifies objection to farm bills despite promising similar reforms in 2019 manifesto,”
- Singh, D. (June 24, 2022). “Gujarat riots clean chit to PM: Two decades of legal battle and what’s next,” India Today,
- India Today (January 19, 2023). “India calls BBC documentary on Gujarat riots ‘propaganda piece’ to discredit PM Modi,”
- ANI (February 21, 2023). “BBC documentary is not ‘accidental,’ it is ‘politics by other means,’ says Jaishankar,”
- Wigell, M., Mikkola, H., & Juntunen, T. (May 2021). “Best Practices in the whole-of-society approach in countering hybrid threats,” page 9