The Indian “Deep State”
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

The concept of a “deep state” is an old one, but of Turkish origin (see here). However, it is nobody’s case, that “if” the deep state exists, then it exists only in Turkey! Conspiracy theorists have long argued that a “very deep state” exists not only in the US, UK, Japan, Germany, and other democracies, but a global deep state also exists, a bit like the type that Dan Brown wrote about. The Chinese deep state is of course visible to the naked eye.

Now, all conspiracies that conspiracy theorists spin are not necessarily true, but it would also not be acceptable if someone tried to make a case that none of these conspiracies are true. Hence it is safe to surmise that a proportion of these theories must be true, what exact proportion is of course anybody’s guess.

So what are some of the characteristics of a “deep state”? Well, at the very least, it is self-serving, exclusivist, elitist, incestuous, insidious, self-preserving, and lastly, not in the best interests of the “common people”, despite thriving in “democracies”! It not only survives, but thrives, irrespective of changes in government from one party to another and sometimes even revolutions (French and Russian).

I believe that there is an Indian deep state, functional at the very least from the time of independence. In our case, besides the colourfully descriptive words used above, it is also dynastic.

There is this clique that exists, and cuts across netas (politicians), babus (bureaucrats), industrialists (crony capitalists), journalists, film personalities, socialites, and most insidiously, even the judiciary and defence forces. This network perpetuates itself, even after people have retired, say from the defence services or the bureaucracy. On the dynastic aspect, it is not just about the “ruling” dynasty in the centre, but also the regional dynasties in states. One also does not normally realize the dynastic nature of our bureaucracy (2nd / 3rd generation), the media, defense services, the judiciary and even Bollywood. I am not in favour of say banning dynasties, but one needs to realize that they are self-perpetuating, incestuous and anti-meritocracy!

It is this “deep state” in India that rises to protect itself when anyone who is in its core is affected. The unusually shrill and well-coordinated attempt to protect Sanjay Dutt from facing his sentence is a case in point! This is not the first time, and is definitely not the last. Even when one of the members of this deep state gets convicted, after the initial unavoidable coverage, they somehow very conveniently recede into the shadows, like what happened with certain “sex scandals” and also some “inconvenient” CAG and Lokayukta reports! This deep state knows how to protect itself and its own.

This luxury is of course not available to say a Narendra Modi for the 2002 Gujarat riots.

It is this deep state which has been venomously against Modi for the last 10 years, hoping, wishing and praying that he would just go away. Unfortunately, Modi did not oblige (how inconsiderate of him) and now he is literally walking the national political stage like a colossus. Since the inevitability of Modi’s ascent has become so obvious, the deep state has now started trying to co-opt him into itself! The number of pro-Modi articles in the media, invitations to “Conclaves”, etc., is indicative of this attempt. This is an old habit of the deep state. If you can’t avoid the rise of an inconvenient entity, then co-opt it into the “group”.

There are stories that I had heard many ages ago about journalists who had been blackmailed into complying with the dictates of the deep-state through “pictures” of a compromising nature. These upright and outstanding journalists had very hesitantly and reluctantly complied with the demand to say drop a story. Such journalists have been completely co-opted, and are now a very active and enthusiastic part of what social media now calls the “paid media”. This is the corrosive influence of this deep state.

This deep state in India is being challenged by one entity covertly and one individual overtly!

The sheer cussedness with which social media is refusing to get cowed down by the state, which is bent upon muzzling it, is a classic story of an amorphous “David” against an insensitive “Goliath” of a state! 66A is but one manifestation. The case of a media diva conniving to send mails to organizations of “anonymous” tweeters to “expose” them was another. The deep state is at its wits ends, as what they were able to get away with all these years (either through coverage or suppressing stories); they are unable to do so now. The way this “fight” evolves, and shamefully in a democratic country (where we are supposed to have freedom of speech), is going to be very interesting.

The other mortal danger to the deep state is the rise of Narendra Modi. Rumours abound about how the deep state was even able to co-opt people at the highest levels in Vajpayee’s government, so that things remained “business-as-usual”! Modi threatens to actually do what Arun Shourie had paraphrased Mao, “bomb the headquarters”! Modi needs to do that because that’s what his legions of supporters expect of him and the country also needs. However, the deep state is also reaching out to Modi to co-opt him. The tragedy is that the deep state tightly controls the national narrative still, and knows how to couch its self-perpetuation into a garb of noble objectives which are difficult to repudiate (reservations, NREGA and FSB are classic examples). Modi needs to be careful and ensure that he stays away from the seductive grasp of the Indian deep state, as frankly besides him, no one else in the present political firmament seems even remotely capable of “bombing the headquarters”!

More strength to him! He can’t afford to fail.