The war drums at the moment aren’t as deafening as a fortnight back, but this doesn’t mean that the clouds darkening the horizon have scattered. The nation continues to mourn the martyrs and is still seething in rage at the slaughter of the men in uniform at Pulwama. The daring IAF strike deep inside Pakistan had assuaged (only partially) the feeling of hurt before shooting down of a MiG evaporated the incipient euphoria. But all that is water under the bridge.
Unfortunately, the BJP’s ranking leaders haven’t all acquitted themselves honourably. Beginning with Meghalaya Governor Tathagata Roy to former Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa and Know-it-All Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, they have spoken out loud (and out of turn) when silence and discretion were required. The governor forgot that he was holding a constitutional office and couldn’t be partisan; poor Yeddyurappa thought the deadly dogfights in the sky were primarily triggered to increase the BJP’s seat share in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.
And Mr Jaitley took upon himself to inform his compatriots (and the world) that India has the capability to do an Osama on Masood Azhar if it decided to do so. Poor man is still recovering from serious illness so he should perhaps not be blamed for lapses of memory about the existence of ministers of Defence, External Affairs and Home who are primarily charged with responding to threats to India’s security. But, maybe we are erring. The principle of joint responsibility of the Cabinet members empowers ‘one to speak for all’.
As if this wasn’t enough, the External Affairs Minister accepted the ‘unprecedented’ invitation for India to be the ‘Guest of Honour’ at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Summit only to receive an ‘unprecedented’ snub (or slap) in the form of a resolution, rebuking India for inhuman barbarities against the innocent people of Kashmir. Sushmaji valiantly reiterated India’s position that Kashmir is ‘strictly our internal matter’ but the damage has been done. There are 57 members in this special interest group and it didn’t require the presence of a Pakistani representative to put the Guest of Honour in the dock. Our obsession to diplomatically ‘isolate’ Pakistan is proving counter-productive.
How could somebody in his right senses believe that the states identifying themselves as Islamic would forsake coreligionist Pakistan for secular India? What was the desperation to register our presence in this theocratic gathering traditionally hostile to us? From all available evidence, we can only conclude that neither have the Chinese responded favourably to our overtures and entreaties to get Masood Azhar declared an international terrorist nor to rein Pakistan from hosting anti-India terrorists on its soil. It is difficult to deny that Imran Khan succeeded in extricating himself from an extremely tight corner. India, on the other hand in its zeal to draw new red lines, seems to have succeeded in drawing circles all around creating a difficult-to-negotiate maze.
Most of the electronic media newsrooms that had transformed into war rooms suddenly lost the plot as the news reached that one Indian pilot was in Pakistan’s custody. Ultra-patriotic journalists and politicians had deluded themselves in believing that we can annihilate the enemy without suffering any casualties. Seeking the release of the captured POW became priority. At the same time it became clear that not only Pakistan but India was also under great international pressure to ‘de-escalate’. The net result of the retaliatory strikes in the aftermath of Pulwama has been increased involvement of external powers in Indo-Pak relations. It was Donald Trump in Vietnam who reassured the world that some ‘good news’ from South Asia was around the corner.
There was much too brief a moment when all opposition leaders united to support the PM in taking whatever action he deemed fit to cope with the crisis. But the moment passed, and questions and criticism of the government have resurfaced. The much-abused word, Narrative, has suddenly changed to the discomfiture of the Central government.
Spokesmen of BJP/NDA as well as senior ministers continue to spew venom against ‘traitors’ who in their view are ‘insulting’ the memory of the martyrs and ‘demoralising’ the armed forces. The strategy to taint all critics and opponents with the same brush can only backfire. They are oblivious of the tide of popular support that had suddenly surged in their favour is turning against them. Millions of first time voters are once again voicing worries about employment, inflation, infrastructure and corruption. For others, breakdown of law and order—lynching by mobs—is the gravest danger the government has failed to address. The ‘Voter’s Gaze’ is shifting to other battle lines far removed from LoC in J&K.