School kids are super smart these days. But even if they weren’t, they’d tell you at once what the so-called MAD doctrine in international strategic affairs means.
It is Mutually Assured Destruction. Where if one nation uses a nuclear weapon against the other, the retaliation will come with three and so on. Because both warring parties are convinced of this mutually assured destruction (MAD), they keep the peace. The logic has kept the peace among big powers for 75 years now, never mind that Vladimir Putin has been checking the outer limits of that restraint lately.
But what’s the emerging new doctrine of MAD in Indian politics?
More than two years ago, we had explained in this National Interest column how the Modi-Shah BJP had perfected their strategy of “triple weaponisation” against those they didn’t like.
The three weapons were: One, police and investigative/ tax agencies and the ED — let’s call them just ‘agencies’ for simplicity from here on. Two, friendly television channels. And three, the massive operation on social media.
You had an agency throw a charge, however wild or fictional, had friendly Ravan-headed channels scream at prime time pronouncing the guy guilty as insinuated, and then carried on for the next 72 hours (at least) on social media, especially Twitter with hashtags, calling them thief, murderer, rapist, terrorist, Dawood lackey, ISI agent, bribe-taker, whatever.
It worked for a long time. It isn’t working any more.
Check this out with Mamata Banerjee, whose nephew and heir apparent Abhishek Banerjee has been in trouble along with his wife. Or Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray, who faced the full impact of this triple weaponisation when his young minister son was hit by wild allegations of having conspired to kill actor Sushant Singh Rajput because of some dark, fictional fight over a woman actor. For days, the pro-BJP prime time warriors and social media cells continued the tirade together. In Maharashtra, we have also had two state cabinet ministers in jail for some time now.
Then, inevitably, it began to change. It is as if somebody woke up the non-BJP chief ministers to remind them that if the Centre could use its agencies to threaten, intimidate, and jail them, so could they. Because, under our constitutional arrangement, state governments control law and order. A fightback began slowly about two years ago. Now it has become an established pattern and will get more intense. Picture abhi shuru huyi hai…(The movie has just begun.)
It is tricky to say who saw the light first, but it is tempting to credit old fox Sharad Pawar with the idea. While West Bengal had already signalled a pushback to some extent, it was the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi coalition that began retaliating in kind.
In August 2020, after Sushant Singh Rajput’s death was widely and wildly described as a murder, not suicide, and junior Thackeray was insinuated to be a conspirator, the case was handed over to the CBI. This was a perfect study in this three-dimensional warfare.
An ‘agency’, friendly TV channels and social media cells, the army, navy and air force of this warfare, moving in the kind of inter-force cohesion Vladimir Putin is so bitterly missing among his forces in Ukraine. A few things came up in a first show of full-scale defiance by the state government.
With the help of some fine young reporters in our team, Manasi Phadke (Mumbai), Sreyashi Dey (Kolkata), Ishadrita Lahiri and Revathi Krishnan (New Delhi), I have done a short inventory of this evolving fight-back. We begin with Maharashtra.
• In the wake of the Rajput death being handed over to the CBI, the state withdrew its general consent to the CBI to investigate cases there. Soon enough, most other non-BJP states followed. The MVA government made a specific target of the TV anchor seen to be most vocal on the Rajput issue, Arnab Goswami. He was arrested on a bunch of charges.
• After the Antilia (Ambani residence) case, the Centre again accused the state police of failure and called in the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The state hit back by setting up a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the death of Dadra and Nagar Haveli MP Mohan Delkar and the BJP’s “involvement” in the case.
• This got more intense. Drawing on phone surveillance by senior IPS officer Rashmi Shukla, former BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis sought investigations against state officials and ministers on graft charges in postings and transfers. The state government charged Shukla with illegal phone tapping. Earlier this month, the state police filed a 700-page chargesheet against her.
• As the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (‘agencies’) now targeted MVA ministers Anil Deshmukh and Nawab Malik, the state police briefly arrested central minister and former chief minister Narayan Rane for allegedly threatening to slap Uddhav. In the course of time, an attempt to murder case was also filed against Rane’s son Nitesh, an MLA, based on a Shiv Sena member’s complaint.
• The latest, of course, is the arrest on charges including sedition of the BJP loyalist MP Navneet Rana and her MLA husband Ravi Rana for threatening to chant the Hanuman Chalisa in front of the chief minister’s home.
• There is much else that’s happened in Maharashtra meanwhile, including during and after the farcical arrest of Shah Rukh Khan’s son. But this phenomenon is not limited to one state. Let’s look east, at West Bengal.
• BJP MP Arjun Singh (who had defeated Dinesh Trivedi) has been charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act for ‘giving away’ loans against fake work contracts as the chairman of Bhatpara Naihati Cooperative Bank.
• In September 2020, the West Bengal CID filed charges against BJP MP Jagannath Sarkar, allegedly for the murder of TMC MLA Satyajit Biswas in 2019. In a second supplementary chargesheet subsequently, then-BJP national vice president Mukul Roy was charged too as a “co-conspirator”.
• In September 2021, the state CID summoned leader of the opposition Suvendhu Adhikari (who had defeated Mamata Banerjee in the state election) for the “murder” of his bodyguard Subrata Chakraborty, based on his wife’s complaint. A case was registered under IPC sections 302 (murder) and 120B (conspiracy).
• There were some stirrings earlier, too. In March 2018, the West Bengal police had gone to interrogate top BJP leader (and its WB unit in-charge) Kailash Vijayvargiya in a ‘child trafficking’ case. In February 2019, the state police lodged criminal complaints against senior CBI officer Pankaj Srivastava.
• On 5 April, 2021, Abhishek Banerjee filed a case accusing news channel Times Now and the Enforcement Directorate for “conspiring” to defame him. ED officers were summoned thrice by the police.
• In May 2021, BJP leader Rakesh Singh was charged by the Kolkata Police in a “cocaine” case. Another BJP functionary, Pamela Goswami, was jailed on drug charges, and got her bail only after 292 days.
The Congress woke up in Rajasthan after the Ashok Gehlot government had its near-death brush with defections in 2020. The police Special Operations Group (SOG) charged two BJP functionaries under the sedition law for “luring away Congress MLAs”. Later, central minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat also faced the same charges. These were later dropped.
An abetment of suicide case has also been filed against BJP leader Jitendra Gothwal after a doctor apparently killed herself, alleging that she was wrongly accused of killing a patient. In April 2022, an FIR was filed against News18 anchor Aman Chopra for alleged sedition and causing enmity between communities. There are many instances of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana also joining in.
The latest turn is the still wet-behind-the-ears AAP government in Punjab sending its police calling on the Congress party’s Alka Lamba, the BJP’s Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga and its own estranged leader, poet Kumar Vishwas. Once this battle begins in earnest, we are guaranteed full entertainment. Because, while the police in all our states are great at fiction writing in their FIRs and chargesheets, none is anywhere near as creative as Punjab’s.
The non-BJP states are now retaliating using some of the same deadly weapons that the Centre employs against them. That’s why a MAD doctrine is now evolving in Indian federal politics. You lock up my man, and I shall lock up two of yours. Let’s call this Mutually Assured Detention.