Oct 14, 2014
Whether in the UN or at the Madison Square Garden, Mr Modi’s speeches had to be designed and structured to reverberate with the TV audiences back home, who would be casting their votes
Information warfare is both offensive and defensive the first, to dominate the mind of an opponent population and shape their perceptions to our own advantage; the second, to prevent similar efforts by an opponent from influencing the collective psyche of own population. To put it simply, information warfare is a blend of psychological operations (“psyops”) and electronic warfare (“EW”).
The former creates the theme and the message, i.e. the “idea” (heard that one before?) to be projected to the target population; the latter disseminates it by the most appropriate means of projection, whether through an upmarket electronic medium, or the more humble but highly effective medium of the poster, the placard, or the handbill. Whatever the process, information warfare is an essential requirement for strategic projection of soft power, to achieve specific national agenda and objectives. Information warfare is a highly sophisticated and above all imaginative process. It has never been amongst the strong points of India’s institutions controlled by India’s official bureaucracy. In fact, India’s attempts at so-called psychological warfare(s) have generally been hidebound and sometimes downright ridiculous. Yet, ironically enough, though in a connected but different context, India has some of the “best brains and minds” in the business (a variation on the “hearts and minds” analogy) right here in India, most of them in the world of media and advertising in the private corporate sector, where some of the most ferocious battles rage for the “hearts, minds and market space” of the Indian customer. Suitably reset and realigned, these resources can be utilised to achieve strategic objectives even at the national level, as also to achieve these for even relatively minor objectives at strategic, operational, and somet-imes even tactical objectives. Military history is replete with such narratives. The Indian military could well interact with profit with the wizards of advertising in the media private sector.
It is in the context of information warfare, that the Indian establishment requires to carefully examine and analyse the recent visit of their own Prime Minister to the United Nations, in particular his address to the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, as also to members of the Indian American community at the iconic Madison Square Garden.
Narendra Modi, now coming to the United States in his own right as the democratically elected Prime Minister of India, still remains something of a controversial love-hate figure to many in the United States, particularly its prosperous Indian-American community, which has been quite divided on the issue. He had been declared persona non grata by an earlier US administration, specifically at the urgings of a section of the Indian community. The George W. Bush administration had proscribed his entry into the country under the somewhat simple-mindedly framed Freedom of Religion Act, on grounds of condoning (or committing — the two are virtually synonymous) atrocities against religious minorities in the state of Gujarat during his tenure as chief minister. The fact that the former chief minister of Gujarat state had been let off by the Supreme Court of India, due to lack of evidence was passionately dismissed out of hand as irrelevant by vigilante opinion of some in the Indian community. On his part, the Prime Minister was fully aware at all times throughout his visit that though he was physically in the United States, whether in the United Nations or at the Madison Square Garden, his speeches had to be designed and structured to reverberate with the television audiences back home, who would be casting their votes in the elections to state Assemblies approaching in 2015 and to the Lok Sabha elections a little further down the road. The Prime Minister’s performance before the world body under these circumstances would be a text-book case study on information warfare, and a demonstration of a sophisticated campaign to influence hearts and minds on a mass scale, in this case not of the United Nations, but of the Indian electorate back home watching him on television, who would be voting in the forthcoming elections to several state Assemblies. To begin with the Prime Minister’s choice of Hindi in which he is an eloquent and powerful orator, as the language of choice for his maiden speech in the United Nations and which was also understood by the electorate back home, could be construed as a step in this direction, even though it was totally unfamiliar to the very large majority amongst the national delegations present at the United Nations General Assembly. The very latest language translation facilities were of course available, but then the impact on its recipients of even the best translated speech is of necessity diffused. Also, as in some perceptions, the choice of Hindi by Mr Modi might even be interpreted almost as an in-your-face gesture to the rest of the General Assembly, because his own primary concerns remained more the pre-electoral situation developing back home, rather than the one ongoing at the United Nations, whose public relations impact, if any, in India would in any case be almost non-existent. The cheering Indian-American audiences in Madison Square in New York, primarily “Overseas Friends of the BJP”, represented the money-machine feeding the Bharatiya Janata Party’s political war-chests in India. But the “Indian-Indians” attending political rallies back home, would actually fill the ballot boxes come election time. It was they who constituted the “vital ground” of the campaign.
The public addresses, delivered in forceful, passionate Hindi, (again, a payload for home consumption) whether at the UN General Assembly, or the iconic Madison Square Garden, largely dwelt on India’s international concerns; his interactions with President Barack Obama as also to corporate America, were more businesslike and private. Both meshed together and complemented each other. The visit to the United States was almost an old-style whistle stop campaign tour, throughout which his objectives remained focused and unambiguous to get the American manufacturing industry to invest in India. He promised a positive and business friendly atmosphere in this country, something which the hard-boiled American corporate heads in the audience, bruised from earlier encounters with the Indian political system and its bureaucracy, could be forgiven for regarding with a degree of skeptic déjà vu. Would matters be different this time around?
The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament