While several persons, including BJP leaders and foreigners, have criticised Rahul Gandhi’s statements at various meetings in London, the Congress spokespersons are vociferously trying to justify his statements. Though some of his views could be dismissed as the thinking of an opposition leader looking to improve his electoral prospects, the leading tenor of his statements was against the nation.
Two aspects further confirm this. First, he spoke in a foreign country; obviously, the statements could not be meant to woo voters. Second, an examination of his statements reveals that he was mirroring the views of our adversaries. Hence, a closer examination of his main statements is relevant to come to a logical conclusion.
Rahul Gandhi’s four statements deserve special attention. First, he equated the European Union (EU) with India quoting that India is a union of states.
It is well known that the EU comprises nations and not subordinate state governments. In all countries, states have some administrative responsibilities but remain under the central structure. In India, there is a three-tier system of Government: the Central Government, the State Government, and the local -self-government. The Constitution demarcates powers of the central and state governments through three lists- Union, State, and Concurrent. Each level of Government administers over the same region, but they have their own jurisdiction in matters of administration, taxation and legislation.
Second, he made contrary statements about China. While on the one hand, he stated that China idolises harmony through the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and, on the other, he said that China has occupied our territory. It is well known that China is controlled and governed by the CCP and its various wings are indulging in anti-Indian activities using cyberspace and its Propaganda Division. The US and other countries blame CCP for its expansionist and aggressive designs. Even common prudence would not allow anyone to make a distinction between the CCP and China.
Third, while on a pointed question relating to democracy, he stated that it is up to Indians to protect it, he kept on insisting that if democracy in India gets destroyed, it would affect the whole world.
Strange argument as history shows ample examples when a dictator ruled one country, other countries had democracy. Even in the current situation, Xi Jinping in China has grabbed all the important positions- General Secretary of CCP, Chairman of the Central Military Commission and the President of the country. The world views him as a dictator. However, the main thrust of Rahul Gandhi was to invite foreign powers to work against the present dispensation.
Fourth, Rahul Gandhi stated that China has occupied 2000 square kilometers of Indian land. This has been negated by Lt. Gen. Kalita, the GOC-in-C, who stated that no land is under Chinese occupation in Arunachal Pradesh. However, this is being ignored. Did he intend to accuse the armed forces for providing incorrect information?
Rahul Gandhi made contrary statements about China. While on the one hand, he stated that China idolises harmony through the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and, on the other, he said that China has occupied our territory. It is well known that China is controlled and governed by the CCP and its various wings are indulging in anti-Indian activities using cyberspace and its Propaganda Division
The above facts suggest a strong possibility that some of our adversaries are targeting important leaders and their supporters through the mechanism of cognitive warfare. The effort of our adversaries is to turn political activists into their proxies. The way such statements are supported by several political activists belonging to the opposition raises suspicion that cognitive warfare is targeting a much larger population. Hence, these acts need to be seen as a result of the cognitive warfare of our adversaries.
In essence, cognitive warfare is more than the sum of various dimensions of information warfare (IW). It integrates all the elements available in the information, cyber and psychological domains and takes them to a new level not only by manipulating the perception of the target population but also by ensuring that the desired action from the targets is achieved.
It includes psychological operations, neuro-science to manipulate the cognitive capabilities of targets and the implementation of social engineering. In this warfare, the human mind becomes the battlefield. In simple words, this is the weaponisation of public opinion in target countries to the advantage of adversaries.
There are several reports indicating the Chinese manipulation of important leaders in target countries and their use as proxies. The US National Counterintelligence and Security Centre in its July 2022 report, reveals the extensive PRC activities to manipulate the US state and local leaders to support the policies that are favourable to the PRC and CCP.
It indicates that the CCP knows that U.S. state and local leaders enjoy a degree of independence from Washington and it exploits this to turn them into “its proxies to advocate the policies that Beijing desires.” The PRC’s influence operations could be “deceptive and coercive” under cover of benign business opportunities or people-to-people contacts.
The French Ministry for the Armed Forces in October 2021 presented a study titled “The Chinese Influence Operations- A Machiavelli Moment” indicating that ‘the CCP’s influence operations have become considerably tougher in recent years and that is a “Machiavellian turn” inasmuch as the Party-State now seems to believe that “it is much safer to be feared than to be loved,” in the words of Machiavelli in “The Prince”. This contradicts Rahul Gandhi’s statement that the CCP desires harmony.
A dossier entitled “China’s elite capture,” compiled by a former MI-6 officer of UK Christopher Steele provides details of manipulations by China to penetrate the strategic and influential community and manipulate them to serve China’s larger strategic objectives. He refers to them as Beijing’s “useful idiots.”
Cognitive warfare includes disseminating disinformation, counterfeiting, sabotaging, discredit operations, destabilising foreign governments, provocations, false-flag operations, manipulation aimed at weakening social cohesion, and recruiting proxies, and the creation of front organisations.
The operations of the cognitive warfare are well-planned after collecting the necessary data about individuals. Specialised programmes are designed for manipulation of the perceptions of the individuals, and the narratives are bombarded heavily through the various channels to influence the cognitive domain of the targets to elicit the desired action.
Crucially, they seek to influence and/or disrupt an opponent’s decision-making capability, to create doubts in the capabilities of the ruling regime, to foment anti-leadership sentiments, and to diminish the will to challenge adversary’s views and claims. And the targets hardly realise that they are functioning under the influence of an adversary.
The cognitive warfare is far more detrimental than the physical intrusions. It results in weakening the capability of the state to take suitable actions. The captured minds within the country can destroy social harmony and make it difficult to take logical decisions. The statement that the current Government treats minorities as second-class citizens was aimed at destroying harmony.
The urgent need for conducting a thorough investigation into the implications of cognitive warfare for influencing our society cannot be overstated. Countering this cognitive warfare demands an integrated effort by the armed forces and civilians, who are increasingly targeted. The political parties too should pay special attention as they remain the main targets of hostile nations.
(The writer is former Dy. National Security Advisor)