Skip to main content

In Modi's chest-thumping, self-valorisation Air Force has not even incidental role to play

By Anand K. Sahay*
Narendra Modi has proved a red-hot, election-time, hyper-nationalist. We saw this after Uri when key Uttar Pradesh state polls were 12 weeks away, and now after Pulwama when the Lok Sabha election is six weeks away. At other times, he has shown a lack of skill to craft a politics which lessens security threats. Kashmir is a perfect example.
"Oh, What a Lovely War!" The landmark 1969 musical, director Richard Attenborough’s debut film – a satire on the First World War, and on war and war – has even the Dalai Lama blessing the war effort in the early part of the epic comedy, so pious seems the project, so plainly just.
In India, the storyline has not been dissimilar. The messianic effort by the ruling establishment that has gone into underlining the justness of the cause and the absolute necessity of the Balakot airstrikes – in weeks before a national election – has had many mesmerised.
The effect can be felt even a fortnight after the event, although it is unclear if the spell will last until polling day. The prime minister is sitting pretty, very pleased with his war-like manoeuvres which may fetch him extra votes. This could make up for anticipated vote-loss on account of shoddy governance and lofty disregard of the interests of the poorer sections – a wide swathe on the demographic map.
Ironically, Pakistan’s prime minister is sitting pretty too, savouring the adulation of the faithful. It appears that everyone is pleased with Pulwama and its after-effect. Balakot has turned out not to be a zero-sum game in which only one of two sides gains.
Indeed, Balakot was India’s crescendo moment with our Mirage 2000s crossing the line and raining down smart explosives (whose results in human casualties, if any, are unknown).
Pakistan’s high-point was not long in coming as its F-16s returned the compliment mid-morning a day later by violating our airspace in broad daylight – the Indian Air Force jets had spooked the Pakistanis when it was pitch dark – and discharging ordnance in the open grounds of a military compound near the border, just to make their point.
We said we hit a terrorist training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, and it was not our intention to attack the Pakistani military. But the Pakistanis were having none of this. In their reply, they hit our military. More than tit for tat accomplished.
One fighter plane lost on each side, but that’s small beer. For Pakistan a pilot lost, for India a pilot captured and swiftly returned in a grand “gesture of peace”.
Modi had his “revenge” for Pulwama (although he was shooting a film in Corbett National Park when the CRPF jawans fell in southern Kashmir and reportedly didn’t stop filming). Just weeks before the Lok Sabha election, this was really all he was after.
Less than a fortnight later, he would tell an Ahmedabad election rally in his native Gujarat that it is “in my nature to settle scores, and to chase and beat you up inside your own home”. In this vulgarity of prime ministerial expression, there was verbal chest-thumping and self-valorisation. In the theatrics of that moment, the Indian Air Force had not even an incidental role to play.
Imran Khan, on the other hand, is also brimming with satisfaction, with the British press praising his statesmanlike action in returning a prisoner of war without any fuss so as not to escalate hostilities, and one of his ministers declaring that his leader deserved the Nobel prize for peace for showing forbearance in a moment of military tumult (between nuclear-armed neighbours with a long history of fighting).
The score pretty much even on both sides, the high commissioners of India and Pakistan have returned to their posts after having earlier left for home “for consultations”. New Delhi is now even said to be giving thought to receiving a Pakistani delegation to work out details for the construction of a corridor through Pakistani territory so that Indian pilgrims may visit the Kartarpur Saheb gurudwara, one of the holiest Sikh shrines very close to the border. Just as well, of course. Better jaw-jaw, than war-war.
We limped back to the India-Pakistan normal in three days flat. So, what’s changed? What has been gained, other than election propaganda mileage for Modi? Observers are rightly confused.
But not our all-knowing ‘strategic community’, the gaggle of retired foreign service bureaucrats and military officials with ageing moustaches, who breathe fire and brimstone when it comes to Pakistan, hector other neighbours but advise caution in dealing with China, and recommend straightforward obsequiousness in interacting with the United States – exactly the sort of counsel Modi values.
These experts tell us that in bombing Balakot, we have drawn a new red line, that a new strategic doctrine has been revealed, that a no-nonsense posture has now been adumbrated in relation to Pakistan. Which is what exactly? That each time a terrorist incident of some magnitude occurs in Kashmir or elsewhere, our fighter-jets will be taxiing for takeoff to hit targets inside Pakistan?
Given the record since 2015, that means about twice a year on average, in some years may be three times. The way the Pakistani F-16s tore into our airspace just the day after Balakot (luckily there were no casualties on the ground to complicate the strategic picture), skirmishes possibly leading to a full-scale military conflagration may be on the cards about three times a year.
How is that for a strategic doctrine for nuclear-armed neighbours in the shadow of India’s “no first-use” nuclear doctrine meant to underline our peaceable temperament before a world audience of doubting Toms?
Another thought for our less-than-reticent strategic experts who flaunt their wares before breathless television anchors: how might an unconstrained Pakistan have reacted to an uninvited Indian incursion into its airspace if the Americans had not been negotiating with Islamabad to assist with the Taliban talks prior to a probable US withdrawal from Afghanistan?
... When the people of Kashmir are with the government, Pakistan-inspired terrorism finds the going tough. This was seen in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Manmohan Singh years. Sending planes to bomb terrorist camps inside Pakistan won’t end terrorist attacks against us. Terrorist outfits are by now entrenched so deep in that country’s social and political fabric that the army-controlled Pakistani state finds it expedient to use them rather than eliminate them.
---
*Senior jounalist and columnist based in New Delhi. A version of this article was first published in The Wire

Comments

TRENDING

Amit Shah 'wrong': Lack of transparency characterized bank frauds, NPAs, jobs data

Counterview Desk
India's senior RTI activists Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj, Venktesh Nayak, Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, Dr. Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Pankti Jog and Pradip Pradhan, who are attached with the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI), have said that Union home minister Amit Shah's claim that the Government of India is committed to transparency stands in sharp contrast to its actual actions.

Untold story of Jammu: Business 'down', students fear lynching, teachers can't speak

By Rajiv Shah
A just-released report, seeking to debunk the view that people in Jammu, the second biggest city of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after Srinagar, people had gone “out celebrating” abrogation of Article 370 which took away the state’s special status, has reported what it calls “abominably high levels of fear” across all sections in the town.

Kashmiris in a civil disobedience mode, are going against 'diktat' to open shops

Counterview Desk
A team of concerned citizens, including Ludhiana-based psychiatrist and writer Anirudh Kala, Mumbai-based activist and public health professional Brinelle Dsouza, Delhi-based journalist and writer Revati Laul, and social activist Shabnam Hashmi, travelled to Kashmir and Jammu to understand the impact of the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent security clampdown and communication blockade on the lives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are abou…

Cess for Gujarat construction workers: Spending less than 10%; no 'direct help' to beneficiaries

By Our Representative
While the Gujarat government’s Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, set up in 2004, as of March 31, 2019, has collected a total cess of Rs 2,097.62 crore from the the builders, it has spent less than 10% -- Rs 197.17 crore. And, as on May 31, 2019, the total cess collection has reached Rs 2,583.16 crore, said a statement issued by Bandhkam Majur Sagathan general secretary Vipul Pandya.
Pointing out that just about 6.5 lakh out of 20 lakh workers have been registered under the board, Pandya said, vis-à-vis other states, Gujarat ranks No 13th in the amount spent on the welfare of the construction workers, while 11th in the amount collected.
And while the builders are obliged to pay just about 1% of the total cost of their project, the calculation of the cess is flawed: It is Rs 3,000 per square yard; accordingly, Rs 30 per square yard is collected. “Had the cess been collected on the real construction cost, it would have been at least Rs 7,000 cr…

Success of 'political' Hinduism: Kashmiris being depicted as antagonists of rest of India

By Anand K Sahay*
There are times in history when facts call attention to themselves; they assert their independence in all its amplitude and are in no need of the crutch of interpretation. Such a moment is visible in Kashmir now. Merely by being on the table, the facts there taunt the regime’s proclamations.