NL subscribers get back with bouquets and brickbats!
Just writing to say thanks for bringing Advaita Kala on the panel. Although I couldn't bring myself to agree with most of her viewpoints, it was refreshing to hear someone from the centre-right that is sane. I just wished when she said Gowalkar's writings didn't reflect the last 13 years of his life, you guys would have pointed out that how much does a person change at that age? It's really difficult changing the POV of a 60-year-old, speaking from personal experience.
Also, it would have been great to hear her thoughts of the RSS founders' affinity to fascism. Maybe next time she or someone who agrees with the RSS comes to the podcast.
I also wish she would have come on the podcast this week as I really to hear a centre-right's perspective on the slogan "Desh ke gaddaro ko...." I really struggle to understand how can someone support such an outfit after mainstream occurrence of that slogan. But again, they have Pragya and everyone is chill with her. Just hoping the breaking point of the average Indian to tolerate this behavior and ideology comes sooner rather than later.
I also want to point out that the recent content from Newslaundry is amazing — JNU reportage and the Newsance from Shaheen Bagh in particular. Thanks for doing all that you're doing and I hope you give all those involved in the aforementioned projects a raise when possible.
Dear Abhinandan, Manisha, Madhu and the rest of the team,
Its been a while since I've written to you. I was a regular subscriber of Newslaundry till about six months ago, but left it for some reason and now I've joined back.
Interestingly, one of the main reasons for my initial subscription was Abhinandan's fabulous interview with that joker Vivek Agnihotri as I wanted to see him being ripped apart by my man. This time too, my interest was piqued due to Gen GD Bakshi's interview and I wanted to see the whole thing, though I've realised how badly I missed the Haftas. Its like how we discuss issues with our friends during our weekly daru pe charcha. So I'm going to list out some issues for you guys, mostly good and some a little critical, and don't mind my taking the longer and rather circuitous route. You can always summarise this for the next Hafta.
The thing which struck me the most with respect to Gen Bakshi's interview was Abhinandan's almost deferential demeanour and tone and his lack of sass. Also, I'm curious to know why this particular officer, among so many veterans, was selected. There are so many talented and experienced veterans with a much more varied operational profile and much more nuanced points of view that I can't help but wonder whether it was done just to grab eyeballs. The interview was disturbing from many angles and I will try to list them down. I may miss a few as I'm writing them down from memory:
(a) Giving examples from the Chinese, US, Soviet (now Russian) and Israeli counterterrorist campaigns has become a common refrain for a lot of people who want the armed forces to use drones, fighter aircraft, tanks and other heavy equipment in Kashmir. Abhinandan (I'll just use AN from now on) did catch him on the dangers of emulating China but mostly, Gen Bakshi got scot-free when trying to promote a mass genocide of Kashmiris using heavy weapons.
What should have been asked was: In all the countries that he described and which apparently must emulate, how many have actually been fighting against their own people? Americans even have a law that prohibits the US army from undertaking any operations on US soil. So it's a lame and useless analogy to give.
Also, AN compliments the general for being well-read. He's not. In a number of counterinsurgency manuals and David Galula's classic Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, most of the pages literally scream that only the armed forces with the lightest and most rudimentary of weapons can win in this warfare. After all, the fight is hardly military and purely political.
(b) The general does pay lip service to WHAM (Winning Hearts and Minds) but then somehow puts himself and his boys in the righteous camp and the insurgent is clubbed with the collateral, which he very casually dismisses as a death or two. I mean, doesn't the basic principle of WHAM mean being sympathetic and compassionate to the people whom you're fighting to protect?
(c) There is some merit in the general's case that sometimes the forces have to fight with their one hand behind the back. However, the higher number of casualties of the forces also points towards the professionalism of the forces as they are extra careful in conducting operations. I will digress for a bit, but during the American "Surge"
in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus had forced the Americans to spread out amongst the villages and neighbourhoods in the most hostile areas in Iraq instead of being concentrated in big bases. His claim, that later turned out to be true, was that WHAM could only be achieved if you mixed with the local population. He followed the inkblot model wherein the number of small outposts will mushroom and later connect with each other, leading to exceptional intelligence and good relations with the locals. This is what the Indian army follows and is the reason why it has been so successful in the valley in tamping down the terrorism.
However, the problem is also of no political vision, that always upends the hard work done by the forces. This inevitably leads back to square one, and the cycle of coercion has to start again.
(d) Gen Bakshi's anger, I feel, comes from his lived experience as the younger sibling of a fauji who was blown up and as a commander with far too many tenures in the valley who saw his juniors and peers fall in front of his eyes. As he candidly admits, his emotiveness in front of TV cameras comes from this aspect of his personality. However, I also feel his feelings with respect to a common Kashmir are equally coloured.
I could feel that when AN tried to corner him into a question, that he deliberately avoided at least five times. The question was very straightforward, where he, Gen Bakshi, was asked whether he could grant the same amount of anguish and anger that he and his men felt at the death of their loved ones, to the commoner (a probable collateral) who couldn't even understand the reason why his loved one was killed. I mean, who will go and explain to him the good intent of the fired bullet that was meant for someone else but got his father, mother or any near or dear one.
And that's where you hit upon the nerve of the Kashmir problem: alienation. Not terrorism, not radicalisation (though they do coexist), but alienation. And this is where our generals and politicians and our society has to evolve.
(e) Coming to the Hafta, in one of the previous Haftas I was listening to Manisha explaining to the panel how Gen Rawat was misquoted when he spoke about deradicalisation. Deradicalisation centres do exist. Gen Rawat may have meant the counselling camps that do exist in the valley where psychological counselling, vocational training activities are also carried out.
Not many in the panel must be aware, but the army has a number of Super 30 centres where they conduct IIT/MBBS entrance examination classes, all in remote places and have even managed to send a significant number of children to good engineering colleges. So, maybe the joke that the only deradicalisation camps that exist in the valley are the police chowkis and army campuses were not actually in good taste.
Also one thing that I've noticed when you guys discuss issues is that you are woefully unknowledgeable about basic military-related issues or geopolitics, for that matter. Two people in the panel were fumbling about what the CDS was and what was his relevance. One of the guys said that it began with the Kargil Review Committee. I mean, it was really embarrassing to listen to that. You also need to have some faujis (veterans) in your panel or a defence analyst on a part time basis. That would be a disruption.
(f) Coming to the latest Hafta. I haven't heard of Advaita Kala and behind all that veneer of sophistication lies a hardcore right-wing fanatic. I mean, her views about OpIndia, CAA, camps in Assam were so lazily venomous that I'm surprised she was called on this panel. Also I completely agree with both AN and Manisha that not all views deserve to be aired just to be seen as objective or fair.
Thats it for now, folks. And as a tangent, I think we as a country took the wrong army as a role model. I just finished watching The Forgotten Army and I feel its a must-watch. For a force which is still surprisingly stiff about women in combat, this series will be an eye opener where we have women in combat since 1942. Its my humble request that you do a well documented show on the INA.
Please avoid overselling the new website/CMS with superlatives like "flawless" and "frictionless".
No software is ‘perfect’. There will be flaws, and there will be friction. You are setting the expectations too high, and will attract more criticism for small issues going ahead. Just mention that you’re working on improving user experience and let the criticism slowly fade away.
I don’t subscribe to NL for creating or using the best content management system, but rather, for the content you put on it :).
Good luck, and keep up the good work.
Also, kudos on finally getting a robust right-wing voice on a Hafta.
General happy subscriber here, writing for the first time to express concern about what seems like a shift towards monkey-balancing by NL.
I know you all have been attacked by people asking for "right-wing" views, which really means pro the cultural agenda or at least actions of the BJP, since all major parties in India are welfare-oriented, as recently noted by Nobel Laureate Abhijeet Banerjee himself. However, I want to caution against letting anyone off easy just because you want to play nice — with Advaita Kaul for instance, you let her go without any probing on the economy question, or the plebiscite and history of how Kashmir came to be part of so-called integral India when the abrogation of 370 came up.
Further, as a gay desi woman who finds your work mostly sensible and rid of overt stupidity or bias, and also unusually free of triggers for me to hear while existing as queer in queer-unfriendly spaces, hearing Advaita make fun of people with different pronouns by asking Abhinandan to adopt they/them pronouns was mind-numbingly angering — would she say the same had you been in hot water with the Dalit community or such? I wish you had addressed it in the episode itself.
Another word regarding Abhinandan's interview with Bagga: while I do truly appreciate the harder questions you asked him, you failed to pin him on anything because you didn't want to go too far. What indeed is the point of giving people like him the platform if you are not going to follow up to your critiques? There is enough hate flowing from everywhere, and while obviously I could read your sarcasm through the interview, he and his followers are probably too dense to get it.
Sorry this is so long and full of criticism — I as a consumer just wouldn't want to lose yet another great group of reporters to the crowd-pleasing game.
All the best.