US warning of communal violence ahead of LS polls worrying, but singling out India amid global rise of hate crime is a stretch

A rather alarming report emerged from within the secretive portals of the US intelligence community. Apparently, the US intelligence community assesses that India is in for a period of communal violence just prior to the General Election to Lok Sabha, particularly in states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). That's a serious enough forecast to worry most right-thinking Indians. There are other assessments, but this is probably the most serious, and the most unusual. It's not everyday that a US intelligence body focuses on communal issues with regards to India.

The report itself is an assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) provided by law, to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Essentially, it is a broad examination of the threats that face the US government and its interests globally, as befits a country that is — as yet — the top dog in terms of sheer military power. It’s an impressive document, and this year the fact that many of its findings contradicted the position taken by US president Donald Trump, testifies to its independence in assessment. That’s as it should be. No intelligence body worth its dossiers should kowtow to political expediency as however they often do. There is, however, a downside. The ODNI was created post 9/11 with the intention of ensuring unity in intelligence, and creating a true "intelligence community".

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

This rosy picture of spooks sitting around a table and amicably sharing intelligence over a cup at Starbucks, however, has hardly come to pass. The top guys in the business like the CIA, keep their files shut as does the FBI, and will only share minimally with the ODNI, which comes a far, far third. Even so, however, a report from this body, particularly since it’s a public document, needs to be analysed with interest and some caution.

The first few references to India are fairly standard, even if annoying in terms of the unchanging mindset in non-proliferation circles. The section on nuclear threats, as before, couples India and Pakistan as countries locked into a nuclear competition with each other. This is an unrealistic assessment, ignoring as it does that the vastly more capable Chinese nuclear holding. It does, however, call out Pakistan’s rising capabilities across the triad of air-, land-, and sea-based weapons. Its nearly there, but not quite as much as Islamabad likes to make out.

An assessment related to terrorism will gladden Indian hearts. The prosaic statement that Pakistan’s "narrow approach to counterterrorism cooperation—using some groups as policy tools and confronting only the militant groups that directly threaten Pakistan — almost certainly will frustrate US counterterrorism efforts against the Taliban" will be backed by most, including most Pakistanis themselves. Apparently, the US intelligence community know the Pakistan Army better than its civilian leaders do, despite claims by the top political leadership of their commitment to peace in Afghanistan. Clearly, US frustration is set to continue.

It's the third assessment that is worrying. The report baldly warns of communal violence prior to elections if BJP leaders continued to stress "Hindu nationalist themes". Further, it notes, "Hindu nationalist state leaders might view a Hindu-nationalist campaign as a signal to incite low-level violence to animate their supporters. Increasing communal clashes could alienate Indian Muslims and allow Islamist terrorist groups in India to expand their influence." There’s a lot to worry here, especially given some trends.

First, no one can deny that hate crimes in India have increased.

Data-based analysis by reputable sources has brought out, for instance, that cow-related violence has climbed significantly from one in 2012 to 31 incidents in 2018. Of the total 124 such incidents, 74 were in BJP-ruled states, and the majority of those wounded (296) or dead (46) were from minority communities. The database also records other hate crimes such as intimidation, sexual violence, and abductions among others.

All record a common factor in terms of a rise in such incidents with the difference that about 12 percent of the perpetrators in an overall examination were also from minority communities. Another 18 percent of crimes were by persons of unknown ethnicity. There are other sources to support the rising trend of such crimes, so this can hardly be denied.

It is also equally clear that far-right Hindu leaders are milking religion for all it is worth. Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s admonition against vigilantism in July, the trend continues with recruitment of 5,000 'religious soldiers',  issues like 'love jihad' dividing even a usually peaceful state like Kerala, and the Ram Mandir towering over elections in the north. One might say that with this and other pointers like attacks on cultural events, an intelligence assessment is hardly necessary.

But here’s something else that needs to be factored in.

Data indicates a sharp rise in hate crimes in the US and a doubling in the United Kingdom in the context of terrorist attacks and Brexit. In the UK, police recorded 94,000 hate crimes in 2017, most of them racially motivated. The trend is similar in much of Europe, fuelled primarily by an economic downswing and resultant unemployment. As the world economy plummets, things are likely to get worse.

The "Global Risks Report" of the World Economic Forum highlights threats like climate change on the top of concerns of leaders, and related crises like water availability, loss of arable land, and spread of disease, all of which is already evident in India and elsewhere. Related to this are security trends of 2019, which include a rise in authoritarian or far-right leaders and large refugee and migration movements among others.

Historically, as the size of the ‘purse’ decreases, incidents of societal violence and perception of the 'other' increases. The Holocaust is only the most well known in a host of examples where societal stress has led to the majority turning on the minority. Along with this comes the terrorist groups, waiting to build upon resentment and discrimination. The threat is real and it's not just in India. This is not ‘whataboutery’. The ODNI intelligence singling out India may indicate a certain bias, but a global rise of hate only makes that threat more serious, not less. Meanwhile, in India its likely to remain about politics as usual. Intelligence can only warn.

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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2019 20:35:33 IST

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