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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 13 New Delhi March 16, 2019

No Time for Politics, Jingoism

Sunday 17 March 2019, by T J S George


It is good that 12 fighter jets bombarded a terrorist camp in Pakistan with the intention of delivering a blow that would be remembered. More significantly, India crossed the Line of Control for the first time to hit Balakot, the terrorists’ nerve-centre. The message was heard in other countries as well; many of them asked the Pakistan Government to help eliminate terrorism. The pressure exerted by them also persuaded Pakistan to release the IAF hero who had shot down their F-16 before his own jet was shot down and he was captured.

But this is no occasion for jingoism. Carefully calibrated military operations lose their import when cheap celebrations are mounted for populist approval. The damage done in this area by the shouters of our television channels is a disgrace. Citing the over-patriotic declamations of channel monologists, Pakistan was able to argue that India was a trigger-happy hatemonger. They scored a brownie point or two when Wing Commander Abhinandan was captured, giving Imran Khan an opportunity to say: “Our action was only intended to convey that we have the capability to hit back.”

The outcome of that capability was not known to the Indian public for quite a while. As TV-fed superpatriots enjoyed firecrackers, Agence France-Presse released a photo showing the wreckage of an IAF jet shot down by Pakistan. The Defence Command of Pakistan released photographs of Wing Commander Abhinandan “arrested alive after successful air combat within Pakistan territory”. It was left to retired Indian Army colonel-turned-columnist Ajai Shukla to tweet what happened: “Two MIG-21s were lured by two PAF F-16s into an air def ambush. The F-16s made shallow ingress into Indian airspace, dropped bombs and waited for IAF MIGs that scrambled. Then F-16s turned back, MIGs followed, were shot down by air defence guns.” A prestige win for Pakistan.

So where do we go from here? The most important thing for any country in a situation like this is to present a united front. The unity has to come from within, clear and unambi-guous. This has so far been proving difficult. Twentyone Opposition parties complaining together about the government not taking them into confidence was not indicative of unity. The Cabinet’s strongman Arun Jaitley’s attack on the Opposition did not help either. Nor did high-profile government functions like the launching of the Khelo India Mobile App and the dialogue between the Prime Minister and BJP karyakartas gathered from all over the country. Couldn’t these things wait for a day or two?

If we cannot get over narrow political self-interests, perhaps we do not deserve the honour and respect we demand as a nation. The depths to which politicians can sink even at a time like this was shown when Karnataka’s BJP leader said that the IAF action against terrorists in Pakistan had resulted in a Modi wave that would help his party win 22 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the State. Are our defence personnel facing the enemy and risking their lives to help the BJP go to the Lok Sabha? A man who does not understand that the country is bigger than his party ought to be banished from public life for good. When such petty men flourish in our country, it becomes difficult for us to successfully confront an overrated adversary across the border.

If India is to assert itself as an effective modern state, it will have to first stop politicians who hurt its cause. It then must firm up international links that it can depend on. In the current crisis, Saudi Arabia and even China provided sober advice to Pakistan. But to what extent can India depend on them? Saudi Arabia’s main ambition is to destroy Iran. For that purpose it has even joined forces with its traditional enemy, Israel. Iran, on the other hand, is having exactly the same problem with Pakistan on the Balochistan side as India is having with it on the Jammu-Kashmir side. Incensed by Pakistani terror groups attacking Iranian interests, Tehran’s strong man, Major General Soleimani, warned Pakistan quite bluntly only a couple of weeks ago.

It is a complex scenario. But the handling of it can be simple if we decide to join forces with those whose interests coincide with ours. They are different from those who want to join hands with us to further their interests. So the challenge is double-headed. Can we distinguish between promoting our interests and helping others promote theirs? More importantly, do we have the guts to do what’s best for us?

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