Modi's firm message, but can war-mongers be kept at bay?

By Rajdeep Sardesai
02 October 2016 22:33 IST

In the universe of the 24x7 media, there is literally no place to hide. Which is why it should come as no surprise that a video of Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking out as Gujarat chief minister against the then UPA governments Pakistan policy went viral last week. The video shows Modi mocking the Manmohan Singh government for not giving Pakistan a befitting reply to a terror attack. Why are you not marching into Pakistan instead of begging the world for support, he can be heard saying in the video. Which is why the announcement of surgical strikes on Pakistan-based terror camps in the aftermath of the Uri attack is the PMs moment of truth: How far now does Modi go in living up to his pre-2014 election promise of teaching Pakistan a lesson. In a sense, the transition from being a gung-ho Opposition politician baying for blood to creating a template for strategic restraint reflects the power of democracy, one that can temper the rough edges of political demagoguery by the challenges of governance in a complex society. In his recent speeches in Kozhikode and in Mann Ki Baat, Modi has shown a reassuring pragmatism in his remarks on Pakistan: Sending out a tough message to Islamabad without appearing bellicose or engaging in the grand-standing that his past at times might suggest. Even the surgical strikes appear to have been carried out more with the intent of a first warning rather than a declaration of war. To that extent, Modis policy has been marked by an appropriate, rather than a disproportionate, response. Contrast that with his supporters, many of whom seem to believe that Modi needs to go much further. A jaw for a tooth, screamed the BJP general secretary, Ram Madhav. Another BJP leader bizarrely claimed in a TV debate that by next Independence Day the Indian flag would be flying over Islamabad. On social media, the BJPs Internet army is jubilant over reports of the surgical strike and hankers for more. Even while the military leadership has spoken of a limited operation, war has been declared in television studios and cyberspace. This uncontrolled jingoism should again come as no surprise. The lets go to war hysteria on television is a sure-shot way of raising not just the political temperature, but also TV rating points. Warring Indian and Pakistani generals make for good TV a euphemism for placing sensation above sense through high-decibel slugfests. TV has created a large constituency for war: There is less space for any moderate, nuanced position in a debate that is designed on the lines of a WWE-like wrestling format where noise matters more than news. For the BJPs core support, strident nationalism that seeks to treat Pakistan as the permanent enemy who must be destroyed at all costs fits in with the Akhand Bharat worldview that still doesnt recognise Partition. It is almost the mirror image of those hotheads in Pakistan who would like India to bleed with a thousand cuts. The saffron Right has for long believed that the Congress presided over a namby-pamby State that gave away far too many concessions to Pakistan. A large part of their antipathy to Jawaharlal Nehru, and to some extent Mahatma Gandhi too, is the accusation that the Congress leadership never called the bluff of the Pakistanis Right from 1947, with Kashmir in particular a festering sore. Now, that there is the first majority Right-wing government led by a leader with a self-proclaimed chhappan ki chati (56-inch chest), the saffron warriors have reason to believe that the past failings will be corrected. If not the entire Pakistani State, then at the very least Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, must be re-captured. Which is why many of Modis most ardent supporters seem to be almost goading the PM to declare war at the earliest rather than hold back. The diplomatic isolation of Pakistan that the government is attempting is a painstaking process; one that involves reaching out to numerous stakeholders . It requires skill and resolve, but most importantly, patience. Its an approach that has been attempted by Modis predecessors, Manmohan Singh and AB Vajpayee with mixed results. The only problem is that the larger-than-life image of Modi was built on a muscular politics that sees the PM as an Arnold Schwarzenegger-like Terminator, not a statesman who uses diplomacy as a preferred weapon. The question then is, will the Modi administration follow up the surgical strikes with a more concerted assault on Pakistans terror machine. Elections in the key state of Uttar Pradesh are just months away and Modi is aware that he cannot afford another jhappi-pappi moment with Nawaz Sharif , which is why the Saarc summit has been called off. At the same time, he has to impose a heavy cost on Islamabad for harbouring terrorists. The calculated strikes across LoC may send out a bold message, but to what extent can the PM take risks of an escalated conflict that might end up undermining the Indian growth story is the real question. It is a moment that requires sober reflection rather than premature celebration. So far, Modi has struck the right balance but for how long can he keep the warmongers at bay. Post-script: Its not just Modi, but even his colleague Sushma Swaraj has had to nuance her response. When an Indian soldier was beheaded in 2013, Swaraj had immediately called for 10 Pakistani heads for every one Indian killed. Now, her well crafted speech at the UN shows that playing to the domestic gallery is a very different proposition to building a global coalition against terror.

Blogger's Profile

Rajdeep Sardesai

One of India’s most respected journalists, Rajdeep Sardesai, has nearly three decades of journalistic experience in print and tv. He has been the founder- editor of chief of IBN 18 network, which included CNN IBN. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the managing editor of NDTV 24 x 7 and NDTV India. Rajdeep has won more than 100 national and international awards for journalism, including the Padma Shri in 2008. He is currently consulting editor at the India Today group.

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. The news on 28 September 2016 that SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Pakistan in November 2016 has been postponed ( it was officially announced later) because while India declined to attend the said Summit due to prevailing conditions, some of other members Afghanistan , Bangladesh , Bhutan and Sri Lanka also expressed their inability to attend. These circumstances have obviously isolated Pakistan and is being read world- wide as a great diplomatic success for India. Further , there is more news. India is reported to have conducted surgical strikes on the night of 28 September 2016 into seven different locations inflicting substantial casualties of terrorists who were obviously to intrude into India to cause terror in days to come. Nation has been reassured by these brave , precise and perfectly professional acts of India’s armed forces about security and safety. In this regard ,readers may like to refresh themselves with predictions of this Vedic astrology writer in hitherto well known article “ 2016 – a woeful year for India with slight cheer at the end” published as early as on 18 January 2016 in online magazine thesop.org. While introducing the main features of the article , it was said : - “ While the first half of 2016 looks to be grim covering a variety of aspects of national life for substantial concern , circumstances yield to ‘SLIGHT CHEER’ at end covering months of October to December 2016”. This was reiterated while concluding the article with the following brief para : - “ Last quarter of year 2016 may bring a “SLIGHT CHEER” at the end , say October- December , covering aspects which would have caused substantial concern during times January to August-September 2016”. Aspects of national life causing substantial concern during January to August- September 2016 were also described in the article which included “terror” and “ defense and security concerns” in the Himalayan belt of northern India , obviously meaning J&K. So the coverage is obvious in a manner not to be mistaken. Thought readers may find the piece interesting.

- kushal kumar, panchkula | 08 th October 2016 16:07

 

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