OPINION | India's Ongoing Subversive Political Activities : A Threat to the Self
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OPINION | India's Ongoing Subversive Political Activities : A Threat to the Self

 By IndraStra Global Editorial Team

"Subversive Political Action - A planned series of activities designed to accomplish political objectives by influencing, dominating, or displacing individuals or groups who are so placed as to affect the decisions and actions of another government." - Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, U.S. Department of Defense 2005.

OPINION | India's Ongoing Subversive Political Activities : A Threat to the Self

In the current dynamics of unfolding political tactics, it becomes imperative to understand the continuity and changes in the way political actions are mechanized and operated. Of which, one of the most evolving facets is that of political subversion, that is, defying the existential norms by an act of ignorance, violation or revisionist tendencies to change. Thereby, what calls for subversion for a state, becomes a revolution for the subversive actor. For instance, terrorism and insurgency, are subversive political activities that exemplify this complexity in defining what entails being subversive.

Applying the theory of subversion to the current Indian context, it can be stated that at present, India stands to be a breeding ground for pseudo forces, such as- pseudo-liberals, pseudo-seculars, pseudo-hardliners, pseudo-religious sects, pseudo-activists, pseudo-law abiding citizens, and others. And thus, infusion of such elements make the future look less promising given the unaccounted growth in subversive political activities, of which, most are "internal" in origin.

The Influence of Subversive Political Activities on a Nation's Foreign Policy:

Foreign policy is the sum total of official external relations conducted by an independent actor (usually a state) in international relations.[1] It includes not only aggressive or defensive military action but trade and cross-border humanitarian interactions as well. When trying to analyze the role of the head of government in foreign policy decision making, it is important to know what is motivating him or her. Depending on the political system of the head of government, the influencing factors will vary. For the head of the government in a democracy such as India, the consensus of the office and public opinion always plays an important role, whereas, in an authoritarian rule like China, the state has the monopoly in decision-making, which may not meet the public consensus but entail a long term national agenda.

Demoralization Factor:

Subversion is perhaps most closely associated with Cold-War era, mass-based, Marxist-Leninist groups. While it is certainly true that communists from the time of Lenin onward have used subversion, a wide variety of other violent underground movements still continue to employ these tactics. But, in India's context, it's the history that lies at the very roots of its own civilization, which in itself stands more than a thousand years old.

Case Study : India was the Soviet Union's Subversive Political Activities Laboratory

According to Soviet defector Yuri Bezmenov, a translator Soviet Economic Aid Group to India during the 1960s [2], the Soviets, in purchasing Indian manufactured goods, would pay the Indians only in rubles. Unfortunately, rubles are non-convertible the currency on the international market, which means that the Indian manufacturer would be unable to purchase anything on the international market with his Soviet rubles. On the other hand, the Soviets would take the Indian manufactured goods and sell them at a substantial profit on the international market for “hard currency” such as dollars or pounds which are easily negotiable. That is, the Indian manufacturer received only a fraction of the actual worth of his product, while the Soviets reaped the rewards of their duplicity.

Video Attribute: Yuri Bezmenov's Lecture on The Art of Subversion (1983)

"Is it that the Indians are stupid, ignorant people, that they allow the Soviets to deceive them in this manner? On the contrary, for the most part, they are innocent victims of one of the world’s most sophisticated eon games Ideological Subversion." - Yuri Bezmenov's Love Letter to America [2]

Video Attribute: Yuri Bezmenov's View on Soviet Subversive Political Activities in India (1983)

Destabilization Factor:

A cognitive approach assumes that a complex, and realistic psychology drives human reasoning and decision making. It does not assume individual awareness, open-mindedness, and adaptability as relative to an “objective” environment, but rather assumes that individuals are likely to view their environment differently and operate within their own "psychological environment". [3] From the above definition of cognitive decision-making, the most important driving force is the 'environment', which in this case, involves the political environment. Even for an individual decision-maker, his or her cognition is likely to be influenced by the political environment in which he or she is operating in.

Given this, the '2015 Patel stir' in Gujarat is indeed a classic case of "Front Group led Subversion Activity" in the form of "Civil Unrest". To gain public credibility, attract new supporters, generate revenue, and acquire other resources, dissident and insurgent groups largely undertake political activities that are entirely separate, or appear to be entirely separate, from the overtly violent activities of those groups. [4] Sometimes this is achieved by infiltrating political parties, labor unions, community groups, and charitable organizations.

Working in and through existing organizations, which provide a façade of legitimacy that might otherwise, be unobtainable, terrorists and insurgents can bolster political allies, attack government policies and attract international support. For those situations in which infiltration is too difficult, terrorists and insurgents may establish their own front groups—that is, organizations that purport to be independent but are in fact created and controlled by others.

As with infiltration, fomenting riots, organizing strikes, and staging demonstrations can have a corrosive effect on the power, presence, and capabilities of the state. Such unrest is first and foremost an affront to a governmental authority, and the failure to suppress it can have damaging political repercussions for the state by demonstrating that it is incapable of living up to its fundamental responsibility to maintain public order. At the same time, however, overreaction by the security forces can play into the hands of terrorists and insurgents by seeming to confirm the opposition’s claims about the fundamentally repressive nature of the state. The death of demonstrators at the hands of the Gujarat Police during the stir helped incite and radicalize a faction of native young people, who came to believe that the Government is against the people of a particular community which forms a majority in the state of Gujarat.


Distinguishing subversion from legitimate expressions of political dissent is a problem only for democracies; as for totalitarian regimes, all opposition is inherently subversive. [5] To build a thorough understanding of the subversive underground, counter-intelligence operations will necessarily be directed against a wide range of anti-government groups, some of which will be adversely affected by these intelligence forays. [6] Here, counter-subversion also entails more than just simply identifying subversives and subversive activity—it may very well require repression. [7]

According to Robert Thompson, - "[i]t is not the aim of the intelligence organization merely to penetrate the insurgent movement. Its aim, inside its own country, must be the total eradication of the threat." [8]

And in the judgment of David Galula [9], intelligence operatives should infiltrate subversive organizations "to disintegrate [them] from within." [9]

For democratic states facing substantial subversive threats within its borders (like in India) - the first line of defense is the first line of offense enacted by banning all kind of political activities on university campuses which are directly linked with any political parties, religious sects or any sect which fuels subversion.

Instead of that, the country should promote fraternity based affiliations (like in the U.S.) which consider both academic and extra-curricular achievements as one of the priority factors to take a role in the nation's future leaders. That's how Americans have always delivered "multiple lines of succession" at all levels of democracy. Since the last 250 years, it has maintained the sanctity without indulging in any form of cult-based leadership figures and figurines.

The requirements of a vigorous counter-subversion campaign will create painful dilemmas and undemocratic consequences, since counter-subversion will almost certainly collide with the rights of free speech, free association, and related liberties. In the case of authoritarian regimes facing serious subversive threats (e.g., China), their rulers are likely to dismiss human-rights objections to their operations on the ground that such actions are essential for national survival, which they justify as the need for regime survival.


Subversion is far more than just an intelligence problem. Along with academic-researcher class, a well-trained, professional law enforcement agencies - both local and national, attuned to domestic conditions and capable of building and maintaining strong relationships with the public can play an invaluable role. But if such forces are to be effective, they will also have to be trained to identify patterns to “connect the dots" so, that subversive activity can be spotted and neutralized.

At the same time, people of a country have to keep away the domestic anti-national elements (of all types) from all the factions of governance by franchising their voting rights effectively. At last, people's mandate is the only effective weapon against any type of subversion.

Subversion is an enduring feature of political history, but like other aspects of the phenomenon, it has not changed much since the era of “Chanakya”. Thus, it is the task of practitioners and analysts to identify the nature and scope of these changes and seek to maneuver the needs to wage effective counter-subversion in the future.


[1] Hill, Christopher. (2003). The Changing Politics of Foreign Policy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

[2] Schuman, Tomas / Bezmenov, Yuri (1982), Love Letter to America

[3] Neack, Laura. (2008). The New Foreign Policy- power seeking in a globalized era (2nd Ed.). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc

[4] Rosenau, William (2007). “Subversion and Insurgency”, Prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Published by RAND Corporation

[5] Revel, Jean-François, “Can the Democracies Survive?” Commentary, June 1984

[6] Spjut, R. J., “A Review of Counter-Insurgency Theorists,” Political Quarterly, Vol. 49, No. 1, January 1978.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Thompson, Robert, Defeating Communist Insurgency: Experiences from Malaya and Vietnam, London: Chatto & Windus, 1967.

[9] Galula, David, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, New York; Frederick A. Praeger, Publisher, 1964.

NOTICE: This article contains the extracts from RAND Corporation Reports under Limited Electronic Distribution Rights for Non-Commercial Distribution Only.

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