After the euphoria of the successful surgical strikes of 29 September, a rather sour note crept in the country’s political discourse, driven by fears within the opposition parties that the ruling dispensation would reap political dividends from the huge public support that the firm response elicited. In a tragicomic farce, some leading lights in the opposition parties first claimed that no surgical strike had taken place and demanded proof of the same. This was quite absurd, especially as the Indian Army’s DGMO had held a public press conference stating the facts, wherein he also said that he had informed his counterpart in Pakistan of the same. From India’s military standpoint, that was an excellent conflict control mechanism, as the DGMO had quite explicitly told his counterpart that India would not carry out repeated attacks, unless further provoked by Pakistan. In a twist to the case, the Pakistan military prudently denied that any strike had taken place, thus absolving themselves of the need to take any counteraction, to appease their own public. With India’s opposition choosing to side with the Pakistani version, virtually calling their own Army liars, reflected the low depths to which political discourse had descended.
Slowly, as irrefutable evidence started coming in of the strike having been successfully executed, the statements took a dramatic turn. ‘OK’, said the spin doctors, ‘we agree that a strike did take place, but it is unworthy of the BJP to take credit for it.’ This off course was pettiness of humungous proportions, unworthy even of delinquent schoolchildren and cut no ice with the public. ‘War’, as Clausewitz so succinctly stated, ‘is the continuation of politics by other means’. While militaries fight, it is not an independent act, devoid of political inputs and outcomes. The aim is political, designed to change the behaviour of the adversary. While credit certainly goes to the Armed Forces, it goes in equal measure to the political leadership too. The nitpicking however did not end there. The spin doctors now declared that such actions had taken place earlier too and it was prudent of them not to have tom-tommed it about. A former NSA, whose performance in that august office was notable for its lack of direction and clarity, even made statements to the press extolling the virtues of the earlier stand. In all thishoop la, the enemy got the required breathing space to extricate from a tricky situation. While internal bickering is part of the political process, on issues of national security, the nation’s opposition parties need to stand behind the government of the day, to tell the enemy that the nation stands united. An apt example was the support extended by Mr Vajpayee to Mrs Indira Gandhi in the 1971 war with Pakistan.
Another sour note crept in on the unwholesome debate on allowing Pakistan actors to star in Indian films. A viewpoint oft expressed was that art and culture must be kept separate from conflict. Without getting into the merits or otherwise of this debate, it is surprising that people forget that wars are waged not by armies but by nations. A military defeat signifies a nation’s defeat, as Indian history so sadly testifies. We do not do business with a person who comes into our house with thoughts of rape, murder and plunder. Gallivanting with the enemy who has promised to wage a thousand year war with us and aims to bleed India with a thousand cuts sends a wrong message to the Army and emboldens the enemy further. Let us remember that South Africa was forced to change its policy of Apartheid, only after all nations refused contact with that country, including sporting contact.
Lastly, on a more sombre note. The Armed Forces continue to be hit by bureaucratic shenanigans, the latest being the downgrading of the status of the officers of the Armed Forces. This is no accident. India’s bureaucracy has an adversarial relation with the military and continues to seek ways and means to belittle the Armed Forces. While the military can take care of external enemies, it is much more difficult to ward of threats which come from within. The present political dispensation has been favourably inclined to the men in uniform, a welcome departure from earlier regimes, but the babus appear to be having the upper hand and continue to cock a snook at the political authority. The babus rule the roost, and change will not be easy to come by. This does not augur well for the country. A surgical strike here is the pressing need of the hour. And hopefully, the political parties will present a united front should this occur and extend wholehearted support to the armed forces.