Have you asked for evidence on the surgical strikes across the Line of Control? One hasn’t yet come across plebeians, or gentry, who have sought evidence about the military action. Perhaps the answer to the question depends on the doubts and affiliated thoughts one harbours. No doubt there has been concern about the politicisation of the event. Yes, there is a sense of disquiet about the rise of the hyperbole and political appropriation of laurels. The crux is, and must be, the ability to retain faith in the uniformed warriors and distrust the un-informed chorus.
That said, India is a functioning democracy and the right to expression, information and dissent are embedded in the Constitution. The President of India is the Commander-in-Chief, and unlike in the neighbourhood the elected government is supreme. The chain of command is institutionalised and has prevailed for seven decades. So do Indians have a right to know? Of course yes! Do Indians have the right to ask the political establishment what happened? Yes, definitely yes! The question is how the query is phrased. Sadly, the political class has displayed opportunistic hypocrisy, indulged in semantics to address the lowest common denominator. Mind you, the shame is shared in equal measure by the useful idiots—of the Opposition and those in the ruling establishment.
How does the oldest democracy deal with national security issues? In May 2011, the US Navy Seals flew into Abbottabad. Operation Geronimo could have easily ended the way Eagle Claw did in Iran or Black Hawk Down in Somalia. Success was applauded on the streets, at football stadiums and both sides of the political divide—from George W Bush who described it as a “momentous achievement” to Bill Clinton, from Condoleezza Rice to Tim Pawlenty and John McCain. For sure, some held back on apportioning credit to the Obama administration—none though held back on their faith in the capability of the armed forces. Success was accompanied by celebration and quiet reflection. It illustrates how pre-Trump America handled events. Must India, the largest democracy, subscribe to Trumpalism?
Incredibly, political sanity was intact the day India was informed of the strike. The government left the announcement to the Director General of Military Operations and the spokesperson of the external affairs ministry. That there was no minister on the dais sent a potent geopolitical signal. The Congress applauded the action and Rahul Gandhi, the vice-president of the Grand Old Party, said, “When the Prime Minister does the job a PM is supposed to do, I support him. I want to congratulate him.” India presented a unified face.
So what explains the surgical strike on sanity by the motor-mouth brigade? The provocation ostensibly came from propaganda fire from across the LoC. The propaganda machine of Pakistan took international journalists on a tour de denial of the LoC on the Pakistani side. The essence of the messaging was if the proposition cannot be proved to be true, it must be false. Essentially, it was argumentum ad ignorantiam, an appeal to ignorance. The trap lured sections of the political class who seemed to have parked their senses on eBay. A parade of prosecutions followed—Arvind Kejriwal, for instance, asked the Prime Minister to unmask Pakistan’s propaganda while Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam demanded proof. This even as retired army generals cautioned against falling into the Pakistani trap.
Even as this very public lunacy was being processed, the political fabric rapidly unraveled. The Congress, till recently infamous for retrospective taxation, claimed retrospective credit for surgical strikes not revealed and filed for before. Worse, Rahul Gandhi took to mixed metaphors, introducing “khoon” and “dalali” in the discourse. Makes you wonder who he is talking to—if not taking advice from.
Defence Minister Manohar
Parrikar stretched the analogy of surgical strikes to state that Pakistan was under anesthesia. He went on to borrow from mythology to suggest that like Lord Hanuman, the Indian armed forces did not know their prowess. In Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan declared that the “56-inch chest had now become 100 inches”! Elsewhere over-enthusiastic supporters in Uttar Pradesh put up posters eulogising demigods from the
pantheon of the BJP.
It was as if the starter’s pistol was fired for the race downhill. And on Thursday, Kapil Sibal of the Congress dredged from history—to equalise past failures and present successes. He traced the etymology of terror attacks to the freeing of terrorists during NDA I and other incidents. The indisputable fact is that a logical follow-up would have led him to Congress’ chicanery and the rise of terrorism in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.
Feeding the frenzy is collective wisdom of ignorance on the social media on “forward” mode. One can understand public sentiments and the enthusiasm the pre-emptive strikes have triggered among masses. What explains the bizarre news environment? Never known for calm distillation of events and issues, self-certified anchors on channels crafted notions and issued diktats of what constituted nationalism. One English news channel—which had recently gone to the National Green Tribunal as a petitioner against the Sagarmala project, a strategic initiative that combines economic and national security objectives—declared that “national security cannot be compromised by politics” and has issued a diktat that it will not air remarks that “risk security for political advantage”. One wonders if the editors of other channels realise and recognise the slur that has been cast.
Hopefully sanity will prevail. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stepped in to calm the discourse. On Friday, he advised his ministerial colleagues from “speaking out of turn”, to avoid “chest thumping” and chided party leaders. The censure is yet to percolate. It is critical to preserve the shift in new geopolitical stature. Hard-fought gains must not be whittled in the chaos. The essential message of the September 28 military action is that there has been a shift and advance in strategic thinking in India—the disclosure of the surgical strikes is a declaration that it is an option now and for the future. It will be sad if India’s political class and Indians miss the woods for the email@example.com
Shankkar aiyar Author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change