Ajit Pawar-Fadnavis ‘Coup’: Applying Time-Tested ‘War’ Tactics
Army veteran Syed Ata Hasnain offers a guide to the art of the political ‘war’, in the Maharashtra context.
I avidly observe Indian politics but as a soldier forever, never comment on them. In the mind’s eye, I always play act the political moves applying basic lessons learnt from numerous war games, operational scenarios and tactical situations, and then create solutions in the mind which are never disclosed.
The Maharashtra political scenario over the last few days is reminiscent of many situations one has faced in the military career. So I reviewed the whole political game from inception to result and realised that many lessons one has learnt from the military profession played themselves out here, while an equal number could have been applied for better results. Let us take a look at some of them.
Even with resources less than the adversary, you can still build advantage at a point of impact, with quick decisions and rapid movement.
‘Manoeuvre Warfare’ is the Only Answer
The first is the fact that if you have an attritionist brain, you will stick to the same old approach, fail repeatedly, and suffer casualties. Manoeuvre warfare is the only answer. Briefly test an approach, pull back at first signs of failure, and re-try another. Manoeuvre, as the term signifies in the military domain, is all about mental agility in trying to place yourself at a position of advantage. It’s about identifying the chinks in the adversary’s armour, and exploiting them. Even with resources less than the adversary, you can still build advantage at a point of impact, with quick decisions and rapid movement.
The Maharashtra political scenario over the last few days is reminiscent of many situations one has faced in the military career.
Second, there is no perfect solution. Securing the numbers and total agreement on the agenda, including a common minimum program that the Congress wanted, is wishful thinking; the proverbial perfect plan which can never emerge. The principle is simple; 80 percent is better than 100. The plan itself is the first casualty in a battle. The Mahagathbandhan slept over what they thought was a ‘perfect’ plan, but it was scuttled by a deft BJP which did not sleep.
The time taken in reaching the perfect plan by the Mahagathbandhan was utilised by the BJP to identify the holes that were becoming evident. It planned quietly, and executed swiftly, identifying the centre of gravity as Sharad Pawar’s NCP.
Night Ops Are Best — But BJP Was ‘Awake’ Both Day & Night
Third, in today’s world of warfare, night operations pay far greater dividend than day. The BJP was awake day and night. It executed its last step at night, and had the battle wrapped up by morning. I suspect that many other nights were used for manoeuvre, contact and deliberations, away from the focus of the media — a classic deception.
Fourthly, forward placement of the command elements is done in war by the creation of the Commander’s Rover Group, and moving a Tactical Headquarters closer to the scene of action. The Mahagathbandhan was lazy, moving its deliberations to Delhi, well away from the scene of action. Real time information, even in the days of mobile telephony and internet, can never be as fast as what the eye beholds and the mind senses, when accosted by the resources (MLAs) and the environment.
The time taken in reaching the perfect plan by the Mahagathbandhan was utilised by the BJP to identify the holes that were becoming evident.
Fifth and very importantly, the biggest enemy of decision-making is the ‘conference’. I usually shunned them, leaving my staff to do their work instead of seeking meaningless information. Endless meetings and conferences bring information overload, produce shaky plans seeking perfectionism, and thereby lose time. No doubt the constituents of the Mahagathbandhan were on shaky ground due to trust deficit, but agenda, common minimum program, sharing of tenure of chief minister and identifying the share of ministerial berths, would obviously take time.
Aim Should’ve Been Clear: Government Formation
The selection and maintenance of aim is a basic principle of war, in fact the first one. The aim should have been clear: government formation. Once the numbers were decided, the rest could follow. Giving, taking and sharing could always be discussed with some differences of opinion being ironed out post swearing-in; after all no one demands that a full Cabinet has to be sworn in with the chief minister.
It is a mundane aspect overlooked, because it is usually forgotten that agenda emerges as one sits together and confers. That conferring could continue after the big decision. Discussing long drawn agenda before only confuses, and leads to add on agenda which allows no decisions.
The Mahagathbandhan was lazy, moving its deliberations to Delhi, well away from the scene of action.
‘Surprise and deception’ is again a principle of war and forms a full heading of the operation order of the Army. It should ideally cover your own measures which need to be taken to achieve surprise, and delay decision-making by the adversary by adopting various measures of deception. Equally, the operational order format caters for a full analysis of the adversary in which the surprise and deception the adversary may adopt, is also spelled out.
Crucial Lessons from Maharashtra Political Drama
The Mahagathbandhan perhaps, so heavily involved in its agenda, failed to throw out sufficient surveillance to know what the manoeuvres of the BJP were. If you are working with the media breathing down your neck and speculation rife through insider leaks, it is you who will end up being surprised. That is exactly what happened here.
‘Surprise and deception’ is again a principle of war and forms a full heading of the operation order of the Army.
We don’t know how long the new Maharashtra government will last, but it’s been a fascinating few days spent in observing the run of events. The crucial lessons from this political drama have been the ability to hold one’s cards close to the chest, take decisions without awaiting full information, shun full and final plans, and consider all 24 hours of the day as working period. Indian politics are so fascinating that the armed forces need to study these situations to apply them to their decision games and war games, to allow the operational and tactical leadership a measure of alternative scenarios for takeaway.
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(The writer, a former GOC of the Army’s 15 Corps, is now the Chancellor of Kashmir University. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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