Social scientists tell us that all societies are founded on myths or what they term “legal fiction”. These do not actually exist on the ground but in the imagination of the citizens; examples are the concepts of justice, equality, money, human rights. These are not natural principles, in fact they may even contradict natural principles, but they are necessary for a stable, orderly society.
Nationalism is one such legal fiction, and it is quite evident that the BJP has understood its power to influence public opinion ( and perhaps elections ?) and is exploiting it for all it is worth in the wake of the strikes on Pakistan. But the BJP should also realise that a fiction is not fact, and once disproved or exposed, it is impossible to reinstate it, with disastrous consequences for the society. Over the last two years the BJP (and the govt) has made its own version of nationalism the touchstone of the test of being an Indian. Whether it is the hanging of Afzal Guru or JNU or eating of beef or inviting Pakistani artists or activities of NGOs—anyone who opposes government policy is deemed to be anti- national. It was therefore only natural that anyone who questioned any aspect of the recent“ surgical strikes” would inevitably be branded an anti-national or pro-Pakistan element.
Though the PM himself has maintained a dignified silence, his colleagues have been less than reticent. Uma Bharti has stated that such doubting Thomases should be sent to Pakistan, Meenakshi Lekhi has branded a well known defence analyst as an ISI agent, and another BJP spokesperson has suggested that the Delhi CM should be strapped onto a drone with a camera and despatched over PoK! In the aftermath of the strikes, the BJP has been needlessly sensitive to criticism and provocative, inspite of all parties unequivocally supporting the govt’s initiative.
It has also unwisely (but predictably) linked the whole issue to the question of nationalism. By its intemperate response it has lost control of the entire narrative- the political consensus has been broken, public opinion is getting divided, more and more questions are being raised, the international media is sniffing around for discrepancies. Worst of all, the govt’s bold action on the LoC is now being linked to the UP and Punjab elections. Regrettably, even the Army has been dragged into the center of this evolving political goulash.
Had the government handled the post-strike phase with more dexterity and less chestthumping (and with perhaps less of an eye on the elections) the gallantry of our soldiers would not have been eclipsed by the questions dominating the discussion today: should the government have gone public ? Was this the first strike across the LoC or did the UPA beat the BJP to it ? How many casualties did we inflict? Where is the evidence that the strike took place at all ? Would it compromise national security to release the evidence? Can we believe the Washington Post or the New York Times? By now, we should have been preparing for the next phase of the operation-Pakistan’s response, strategy to counter the next wave of infiltration-rather than doing a post-mortem of the first. Had the government not gone public with the strike no questions would have been asked. Having decided to trumpet it abroad, it should now be prepared to substantiate it.
A sphinx-like silence will not do. Questions will be asked, and any elected government has to answer them. It cannot take the expedient and arrogant short-cut of dubbing all questioners as ISI agents. In the digital age there can be no holy cows; surely, Modi of all persons knows this. The answer to scepticism has to be a rational response, not a splenetic denunciation or an effort to hide behind the army with counters like “Don’t you believe the Generals?” For God’s sake, keep the Army out of what is essentially turning out to be a political slug fest. The Army has done its job and made us proud: the politicians should fight their own battles. The whole country wants to believe the government and it is still not too late for that. The PM has done the right thing by advising his Ministers not to speak out of turn and to exercise restraint. He must now go further and take the mainstream political parties into confidence. He should share with them (in strictest confidence) behind closed doors whatever evidence of the attack he can without revealing strategic details.
After all, if we could share with the ISI the evidence on Pathankot attack, why is the government becoming so coy now? This could also be shared with important foreign embassies and the UN, European Union etc. The BJP should also tone down the hysteria and ersatz nationalistic fervour it has created: this is only distracting the government from the important job at hand. Myths have to be sedulously nurtured and people have to believe in them voluntarily for them to be effective. If they are questioned too often, or if they are rammed down throats, they start unravelling. The BJP should not link the action on the LoC to nationalism as some TV anchors do every night. What is at stake for the latter are just some TRPs, what is at stake for the government, however, is a united country at a dangerous time.
Served in the IAS for thirty-fi ve years and retired as Additional Chief Secratary of Himachal Pradesh