WITH the claimed 'surgical strikes' on alleged terrorist bases across the LoC in Kashmir, the Modi government believes it has finally found a talking point. More than two years in power, the economy going downhill with jobs disappearing and prices soaring, and Sangh stormtroopers spicing up the Modi mantra of 'minimum government, maximum governance' with daily doses of thuggery and recurring communal and casteist violence, the credibility of the government had been eroding quite rapidly. The Modi government is now banking upon the 'surgical strikes' and the jingoistic propaganda blitzkrieg unleashed around this military operation to turn the tides. And with the crucial UP elections round the corner, the Modi government and the entire Sangh brigade are now going all out to try and turn the surgical strikes into electoral strikes.
The 'surgical strikes' came a few days after the shocking Uri attack which had exposed the vulnerability of an Indian army base in the midst of tall claims of national security. And Uri was not the first instance of its kind, only a few months ago Pathankot had happened. Uri made it clear that the government and its security establishment had hardly drawn its lessons from the Pathankot episode and serious lapses continued to dog the intelligence and security apparatus, letting Uri routinely follow Pathankot. After Pathankot, the Modi government had allowed the ISI to come and conduct its own probe, this time round it chose to retaliate with what the DGMO claimed to be a series of surgical strikes, triggering a season of chest-thumping celebration and jingoistic frenzy. And BJP propagandists have also claimed the strikes to be a huge strategic and foreign policy success even though we have seen little support for the BJP line in the international arena.
Questions raised about evidence of the strikes have been denounced as an insult to the Indian army. When knowledgeable military experts and representatives of previous governments have pointed to the fact that such strikes have also happened in the past, incumbent defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has dismissed it with the preposterous claim that anything that might have happened in the past were local operations without any government-level decision or nod. If this is his idea as a Defence Minister about the role and functioning of an army in a parliamentary democracy, then that itself is hugely worrisome. And what he said by way of explaining the source of the 'political will' of the present government - attributing it to the RSS schooling of the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister - is a most blatant attempt to saffronise the doctrine of national security. Modi too has drawn a loaded political analogy by comparing the operation of the Indian army to 'Israeli military valour', a euphemistic expression for the brutal war crimes driven by Zionist expansionism and military occupation.
The Modi government and the Sangh brigade made sure that the Dussehra/Vijayadashami/Ramleela celebrations this year were suffused with jingoistic frenzy. Modi went to Lucknow in poll-bound UP - calling it the state of Rama and Krishna - to address a gathering assembled to witness the burning of the Ravana effigy. In many places the ten heads of Ravana were presented as well known Pakistani faces - whether heads of terrorist organisations or leaders of the government, and some Kashmiri leaders from the Indian side were also included among those chosen faces. Banners went up in Gujarat portraying even Arvind Kejriwal as a hero of Pakistan for suggesting that the Modi government should furnish evidence of the surgical strikes. In Rajasthan, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia sponsored a special religious ceremony led by a group of Brahmins, all in the name of praying for the safety of the soldiers on the border. Meanwhile, farmers in bordering villages of Punjab and Rajasthan all got urgent evacuation orders leaving their hearths and homes and fields and crops behind.
Influential sections of Indian television media started crying for war, turning television studios into 'war rooms' and anchors appearing in army attires. Sections of Pakistani media also reciprocated, though it must be said that many journalists in Pakistan also showed the courage to incur the wrath of the state and the Pakistani army by speaking truth to power. BJP leader and parliamentarian Subramanian Swamy went on to say that India must not be deterred by the threat of nuclear war even if one hundred million Indians had to sacrifice their lives. Bollywood is being pressurized to stop producing and showing films that involve Pakistani artists. There is also a call for boycotting goods made in China for the diplomatic proximity between China and Pakistan. War-mongering has clearly become the official standard of patriotism while calls for sanity, peace and dialogue are treated as proven 'anti-national activities'! Nothing could be more disturbing and detrimental to the cause of democracy.
The concerns and challenges facing the common people of both India and Pakistan are quite similar and they include the issue of terrorism. In his Kozhikode speech, Modi appeared to be addressing the people of Pakistan with his call for war on poverty and unemployment. But subsequently the Indian government took the line of asking the international community to dub Pakistan as a terrorist state. Instead of targeting terrorist organizations operating from the Pakistani soil, and bringing pressure to bear upon the Pakistan government to take action against such organizations and stop cross-border terrorism, the Modi government has just blunted the edge of the anti-terror argument by effectively declaring political war on the whole of Pakistan. The international community has refused to endorse this line, and the declaration adopted by the BRICS summit in Goa even shied away from even naming the well-known Pakistan-based terrorist organizations. So much for the BJP claim of having succeeded in getting Pakistan isolated!
Yet another war between India and Pakistan is the last thing that the two countries need. War-mongering is the biggest political distraction for the people of the two countries in their battle against the pressing issues of real life. Anti-Pakistan war-mongering also invariably escalates communal polarisation and hate-mongering within India and vitiates the domestic political and social environment. With elections in several key states round the corner, forces of peace, sanity and democracy must strengthen their voices in both India and Pakistan and firmly reject terrorism and the politics of war and communal polarisation.