What India’s TV wars with Pakistan don’t tell us about our wars without witness

Thousands have died in internal battles waged against its own people in Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and the Northeast.

 There are wars and there are the TV wars and it is the second variety that has been raging over the last few weeks in the media studios throughout the land. The September 18 attack on Uri Army headquarters provided the trigger for TV anchors, ruling politicians and sundry other warmongers itching to declare war on Pakistan.

The luminaries of the political and defence establishment, who, despite Pathankot, had ignored security and were guilty of facilitating 19 soldiers’ deaths by the gross negligence of lodging them in inflammable tents, escaped all scrutiny. All lapses were well hidden behind a smokescreen of war clouds of their own making.

The shrillness of the war cries yet shows no signs of abating. A variety of war games are being played out on prime time. Many media outlets had, even before the announcement by the Indian Army of surgical strikes, already invented and announced surgical strikes of their own.

As the media sets up televised war rooms complete with maps and digital models, every actual, notional or imagined step of the armed forces is being chalked out and projected – more surgical strikes, Indian fidayeen units, hot pursuit, and implementation of doctrines  of cold start, and even limited nuclear war. The “war” with Pakistan is being fought out in full media glare even before it actually begins.

A make-believe war

An actual war with Pakistan is yet a remote possibility. Military confrontations in these times are usually proxy wars, with one or the other big power backing each of the sides. Both India and Pakistan being well within the same American camp, the likelihood of the US consenting to declarations of war on each other is extremely low. Meanwhile, major military moves contrary to Washington’s wishes are not options either country’s ruling class is willing to contemplate.

But a make-believe war too has its fair share of backers. The party in power can reap a rich harvest of votes; a jingoistic anchor and his channel can rake in the TRPs; a corporate house entering armaments can speed up the contracts.

So, war or no war, the business of warmongering will carry on. Under the camera glare, politicians will thump their chests and anchors will shout themselves hoarse, creating choruses from all corners.

Real and lethal internal wars

But TV wars are not the only type of wars. There are some very real and very lethal wars being waged by the Indian state in various parts of the country. Some of them have been on for decades with death counts far surpassing anything on the Line of Control (LoC). The news of these, however, rarely makes it to the newspaper headlines or prime time TV.

In just the last three months of protests in Kashmir, the casualty count has been 92 dead and over 12,000 injured.

One such war is the one waged against the almost three-decade-long mass insurgency for self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir, which has caused a death toll between 44,000 and 1,10,000 as per various estimates.

In just the last three months of mass protests against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, the casualty count has been 92 dead and over 12,000 injured, including 1,000 blinded in firing and shot-gun pellet attacks by security forces. These figures far outstrip the numbers of Indian citizens killed and injured in all the external conflicts waged by India since 1947.

Another conflict is the five-decade-old attempt by the Indian state to wipe out the Naxalite movement. The toll here too runs to several thousand. While the estimates for earlier years are disputed, government figures for the last 20 years run to around 14,000.

In the last seven months, Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region alone has seen more than a 100 adivasis killed in encounters shown by civil rights groups to be fake.

Jammu and Kashmir figures in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most militarised zone.

Jammu and Kashmir figures in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most militarised zone. It has seven lakh military and paramilitary personnel in comparison to a population of only 125 lakh giving a soldier-people ratio of 1:18. A similar situation exists in the Bastar division of Chhattisgarh, which has one lakh paramilitary forces for a population of 31 lakh, that is, a soldier-people ratio of 1:31.

A report submitted to the United Nations by the Working Group on Human Rights in India points to similar intensified militarisation in the northeastern states. It has been a conflict zone right since 1947, with many groups fighting for self-determination. Government statistics admit to 21,400 fatalities from these conflicts in the last 25 years.

Wars without witness

As the body counts in such war zones grow grimmer, information flows from these parts get scantier. In fact, there has been a concerted attempt by the state and mainstream media to ensure that news and views on these wars remain highly restricted and are even fabricated.

The recent resignation by Naseer Ahmed, a senior Kashmir journalist with the Ambani-owned TV channel IBN7 brought to light the role of the Delhi-based media centres in fabricating news reports as per state directives and preventing factual reporting of the killings and unrest.

Raids on Kashmiri newspaper offices, Facebook censorship and a ban on the Kashmir Reader newspaper were some of the methods used to curb the local media. Well-known human rights activist Khurram Parvez was first prevented from traveling to Geneva to attend a session of the UN Human Rights Council and then was placed under arrest.

The wars that the state wages on its own people are kept far away from the media glare.

In Bastar, the tool of arrest has been used rampantly by the state against journalists who refuse to toe the police line. The last year has seen at least four journalists being forced to spend months in jail on cooked-up charges. One of them is yet behind bars.

On October 15, two Mumbai-based writers were picked up from a Bastar jail merely for attempting to meet a woman Maoist prisoner with the jail superintendent’s permission. Lawyers and rights activists too have been systematically hounded and even evicted from the area. Amnesty International India has documented what it calls a near-total information blackout in the state in a report titled “Blackout in Bastar: Human Rights Defenders Under Threat”.

Thus, unlike the jingoistic TV wars with Pakistan, which the ruling classes relish and revel in, the wars that the state wages on its own people are kept far away from the media glare.

These are the wars which lay bare the lie of the democratic credentials of the Indian state. The dark designs of these wars must therefore be planned in secret. Their brutal consequences must be blacked out.

They must be wars without witness.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves



What Modi told Cameron about Kashmir’s self-determination

The two leaders have a heart-to-heart conversation on the ex British PM’s last day in office.

On his last day at 10, Downing Street, a gloomy British prime minister David Cameron decides, on an impulse, to personally express his thanks to some heads of government he’s known during his period in office. The calls are short and businesslike.

Not so when it reaches the Indian prime minister. Narendra Modi feels that Cameron needs consolation, but could also do with a bit of advice (it is also easier to advise the leader of a P5 state when he is out of power). After initial pleasantries the conversation goes something like this:

Modi: Brother, I hope you don’t mind it, but I must tell you that calling all those referendums was wrong.

Cameron: What “all” referendums? I had only two – Brexit and Scottish independence.

M: But two is too many bhai. You should only have such things when you are very, very sure to win.

C: Yes, yes, I thought that I would win. That’s why I called the referendum, but something went wrong. But nevertheless, we have to have voting in a democracy.

M: Yes brother, of course, of course. We know that. We are the world’s largest democracy you know. We have elections all the time – parliamentary elections, Assembly elections, municipal and panchayat elections. We even have elections in Kashmir. And if they don’t want to vote our army boys see that they vote. They push the Kashmiris to exercise their democratic right. We make sure that our democracy works.

C: But some issues are very important. You need to have a referendum.

M: It’s there in your constitution?

C: No, no. We don’t even have a written constitution.

M: Then? How can you make such a mistake? See us. Our Delhi CM is asking for a referendum for full powers for his state government. We said nothing doing, not in our constitution. We called him an anti-constitutional anarchist.

Of course, when we wanted to have a referendum to takeover another state, Sikkim, we had a referendum. But at that time we had made sure everything went our way. Our army first took over the king’s palace and put him under house arrest and then, within five days, we had the referendum. No one was there to oppose us, no debate – 98 per cent voted in our favour. You have to make sure in a democracy brother.


C: It’s not the same everywhere Modiji.

M: I know. But the referendums you guys take give us the shivers. I was really tense during your Scottish vote. If it had gone against you, we would have had real problems. Would have given a boost to all our independence lovers here. Demands for a Kashmir vote would have got stronger.

C: But your Nehru promised the UN he would hold a plebiscite.

M: No problem with that. I too would have done that in 1948. The Indian people had been fighting so long for freedom; Nehru had to make a show that we were for freedom for all peoples. I’m sure from the beginning he had no intention of having a plebiscite in Kashmir. He knew we could never win. It was only where he knew we would definitely win, in a place in Gujarat, that he immediately had a vote – only 91 votes went against us.


C: But Kashmir won’t agree so easily. There seem to be massive stone-pelting protests on at the moment – against killing of a leader of the armed struggle there.

M: That? We know well how to deal with that. We just increase the numbers of security forces. It already is the world’s topmost militarised zone. As long as we can convince the Indian people that these protesters are terrorists from Pakistan, we have nothing to bother.

C: But those protesters are not terrorists are they?

M: Did I say they were? You miss the point brother. I said that we only have to convince the Indian people that the Kashmiris are all terrorists… for that we have a good cooperative media who only give the government version. We just have a few troublemakers whom we can set right. On Kashmir even all our opposition parties are good fellows – whatever we do, they won’t say a word against the government.

C: Dozens are dying, hundreds have been injured.

M: Some blood has to be spilt. But nothing to worry. See, I did not even have to cancel or cut short my Africa tour. Even during all the firings and killings in Kashmir, I was busy in South Africa spreading Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence. It is very important for the world to see me as a follower of the Mahatma – you see I still have to get over all those charges on me of mass killings in Gujarat in 2002. There are some human rights wallahs who go on and on after me.

C: I know those types. They have been going on after poor Tony Blair for Iraq war crimes. I don’t know how it will be for me after I’m out of power. I too have a war crimes complaint against me for bombing Syria – by some Scottish independence partymen. After Brexit vote they are demanding a new Scotland referendum and they may win this time. I’m worried.

M: Don’t bother too much Davidbhai. The Americans will have to see that none of their friends face trial for war. We may talk of peace but we need war all the time, at all times. Even the Mahatma recruited soldiers for your wars. War and violence are necessities recognised by all. The important thing is to be on the winning side. Only losers can get punished as war criminals.

C: But Modiji, you better do something about Kashmir.

M: Yes, yes, we have got some good suggestions from the Israelis. We are putting them into practice. We are trying some army settlements and some fortified Kashmiri Pandit settlements – how the Zionists did in Palestine.

If we manage to change the demography then we can definitely go for a referendum for Kashmiri self-determination. We can show that we also uphold the right to self-determination in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which we ratified in 1979.


[The pleasant exchange of views comes to an abrupt end with Samantha reminding Cameron that it is time he left for Buckingham Palace to hand in his resignation.]

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira