Is this the return of the soft state?

SS DhawanUpdated: Thursday, May 30, 2019, 03:07 AM IST
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PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore |

When we do not retaliate — and the enemy needles us time and again — it is not because the Army does not have the firepower or the wherewithal to respond, but because the sultanate in New Delhi lacks the nerve! Till we have a government with grit, the security of the country cannot be guaranteed. This, Mr Prime Minister, was the thrust of the disquieting poll rhetoric with which you seduced an electorate.

No offence, Mr Modi, but you never really knew when to hold your horses in the opposition; we all remember vividly how you had scrambled to Ground Zero after 26/11, unmindful of the spirit of bipartisanship, to slam Manmohan Singh’s televised address to the nation.

Yet these days you are overwhelmed with your own eloquence and have little to say about such terror strikes as happened the other day at Srinagar; before that, after the Anantnag killings, you merely said  that we will not be bogged down by such cowardly attacks and evil designs of hate. Yes, of course, you also said you were pained beyond words. Tragedies are a good time for the heads of any state to connect with the nation, but a bad time to engage in a game of dumb charade. By momentarily forgetting that MMS had used almost similar language, detractors say you have snuggled up with your tongue-tied UPA predecessors who took refuge in our mature democracy or the doctrine of strategic restraint, to justify their complacent nonsense in the face of terror strikes.

Not just that; your party, echoing your view, always made out a case in television studios that the lack of grit was a chronic affliction with all the non-BJP regimes, with matters veering out of control under the likes of  Manmohan Singh, who kept pining for Pakistan — his land of birth. It is a different matter that MMS curled up after 26/11 and never went to Pakistan but what happened, Mr Modi? You too succumbed to the charms of the fable, Jine Lahore nai vekhya o jamya-e-ni (if you have not seen Lahore, you have not lived).

The lack of political courage in the previous regimes was also given a historical dimension by your voluble spokespersons and it was drilled into us that we as a people tend to be pliable while dealing with the enemy. So, we hope, Mr Modi, that this time the enemy will not be emboldened by your relatively weak rhetoric. Because there is a cause for concern; because by not immediately and unequivocally condemning Islamabad’s deception and sophistry and threatening them with dire consequences, you run the risk of being clubbed with the secular-liberals and peaceniks among us whom your party spokespersons keep dismissing derisively as saboteurs and collaborators.

You had put the nation on steroids, to sustain your peculiar brand of muscular nationalism. We had thought we will hear at least half a battle cry after Pathankot. But you wanted to first respond to a questionnaire from Pakistan — a matter on which you had often lampooned MMS — describing them as love letters; your men even conducted a reality tour for their team of experts, including a picnic at the encounter site at the air base.

You were again unable to redeem your pledge to uproot terror after the Uri massacre, even as your naive party spokespersons kept describing the attack as a naked aggression, much to your embarrassment. So, after Anantnag, we earnestly hoped you will declare war on anything beginning with the letter ‘P’. Rather, your ministers went into a communal harmony overdrive, extolling the virtues of Kashmiriyat that were suddenly visible to them in the smouldering  pyres of the eight hapless yatris.

By their utterances, they have almost lulled us into believing that you are helping unite a divided nation. It is, of course, another matter that when there is a street lynching or a hate crime we do not talk of communal harmony and harp on the need to keep the social fabric intact.

Our inaction in the face of repeated terror strikes across the border has left us all a trifle confused: do we salute the return of the soft state or lament the exit of the no-nonsense decisive leader? Or are you talking in multiple voices to confuse the enemy, a tactical retreat before you hit back with vengeance — at a moment and time of your choosing — possibly close to the general elections.

After all, there is still the unfinished business of Kargil when your senior leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee doggedly refused to cross the LOC, or the Kandahar seduction when we had escorted Jaish chief Masood Azhar with pomp and ceremony into the waiting arms of his militant brethren. Your party also needs to banish other demons — the assault on Parliament, the series of attacks on Amarnath pilgrims — all these in the Vajpayee dispensation.

But you need to act fast as just eighteen months are left to give the battle cry and dig the trenches. Of course, we had the much-trumpeted surgical strike. We were given the impression that this was the template of a new defence paradigm under which India will not be inclined to keep the border hostilities confined to minor incisions. Rather, deeper, more incisive forays will be made, unmindful of the strategic response it may elicit across the border. But it did not quite work out to our advantage because from all accounts the incursions have only increased.

Perhaps the rhetoric of terror has created for you a major internal contradiction. I still remember your campaign speeches, especially your penchant for leaving things unsaid — Pakistan ko jawab unki bhasha mein do, Terrorism ko jad se ukhad doonga — short bursts of sentences like the staccato of a machine gun. We lapped up these up with aplomb the import of which we are now beginning to understand.

That was the language of dumb charade: the pantomime worked for you — the politics of anti-Pakistan rhetoric — but it needs to work for us, too. You never ever answered the key question: how will we grapple with a nuclear Pakistan? But this is a grey area in which we can’t trespass. We need to get on with our lives, pay GST, listen to jumlas, lynch a person every now and then to relieve our monotony, mention the cow in our morning prayers, and let the Army do it’s job!

And in case we forget our purpose in life, remember the words of the great TV anchorperson from Guwahati — Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.

But let us not lose sleep over the fact that we are dealing with a delinquent state that has nuclear arms — of late even short range warheads of low-yield that can destroy our cities; don’t worry either that there is an inherent risk in such a matrix of controlled hostilities escalating into a conventional war; disregard that China has a far bigger stake now in PoK, a part of which has been bartered to it by Islamabad; ignore the hands-off policy of both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in the region — they have to make their countries great again.

Don’t worry, countrymen, because you have a prime minister now who thinks before he speaks. At least, we are beginning to hear a more nuanced democratic voice.

The author is editor of The Free Press Journal

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