By Nijam Gara:
The widespread advertisement of ‘surgical strikes‘ on terrorist camps in Pakistan across the border by the Indian government is unprecedented. While these strikes were in retaliation to the brutal massacre of 20 Indian soldiers in Uri (along the India-Pakistan border), the full impact and fall-out of these propagandised ‘surgical strikes’ will only manifest with time. Many Indians might prefer to get ‘high’ on the goriness of war prodded on by rabble-rousers in the mainstream media and politics but history stands testimony to the vagaries of war. From Ashoka to Alexander the Great, from Hitler to George W Bush, there is only one certain outcome of war – destruction of millions of lives and usurping of aspirations. Level-headed leaders, particularly in recent times, have stuck to diplomacy to avoid mass casualties and economic downward spiral.
Why then did Narendra Modi, the elected Prime Minister of India, choose to advertise the military strikes in such a brazen manner in stark contrast to previous governments that reportedly also carried cross-border retaliations? The answer does not lie solely in any complex geopolitical equation that involves the US-Pakistan relations, etc. but in our domestic sociopolitical scenario itself.
The goal of the current dispensation is to enamor the disproportionately vocal, visible, Indian middle-class voter with the purported success of these strikes and summarily shift its gaze away from the mass movements, damp squibs and misplaced priorities that have severely dented the larger-than-life NaMo image in the past two and a half years. The NaMo brigade precisely wants Indians to forget about the following nine issues by immersing in jingoistic waters and obsessing with external terror threats while ignoring domestic realities:
The promise of “acche din” turned out to be a flat-out lie. This catchphrase had become such a haunting ghost to the central government that the spin-doctor Nitin Gadkari disowned the phrase itself and blamed it as a baggage of former PM Manmohan Singh and not that of the contrastingly vocal NaMo. The average Indian that had chosen to ignore the hollowness of the ‘Gujarat model‘ and placed complete faith in the media mascot NaMo to rid them of their sufferings, of late, have come to realise that they have been duped with no perceptible change in their lives despite a change in guard at the Centre, more than two years ago. It is this realisation that the government wants to banish with the spectre of war. A classic replay from the rule book of an authoritarian leader.
They want Indian voters to be content with the soundbytes on war on primetime television rather than demanding the INR 15 lakh that they were promised straight in to their bank accounts from the overseas stashes of black money hoarders by the ‘Robinhood NaMo’.
The Central Government would rather prefer that the great Indian middle class continue to silently buy lentils at inflated prices while allegations against some corporate bigwigs in unduly profiting by monopolising the lentil trade fly thick and fast. The war cries will only make such a task much easier. It will help keep the artificially propped up ‘clean’ image of the government alive.
The saffron terror unleashed by cow hooligans on the streets of India, from Dadri to Una has claimed the lives and dignities of labouring Dalits and Muslims. This, in turn, has led to a never-before witnessed unity among the most suppressed sections of this land. Dalits and Muslims, the two most economically disadvantaged groups in the country, make up disproportionately more numbers among prisoners and among those on the death row. With Jignesh Mewani’s march to Una, these sections have been galvanised like never before, particularly in the state of Gujarat, the bedrock of Hindutva and the bastion of saffron politics that pitchforked Modi on to the national stage. No wonder then that Mewani has been arrested multiple times in the last few weeks on frivolous charges. With the mantra of surgical strikes, the government wants to checkmate these peoples’ movements.
On the campus front, the fire ignited by Rohith Vemula’s suicide note has engulfed the universities nationwide and is still blazing nine months after his death. Although the government has tried to malign Rohith, his caste credentials, his friends and his family members even after his death, his compatriots have kept the fight alive despite several odds. Dalit organisations, particularly student groups have rallied like never before in this battle. The government is hoping for the valor of the army to vaporiae this raging fire rather than prosecuting its ministers that exhorted the Vice Chancellor Apparao Podile in driving him to death.
The government wants to shoot atop the shoulders of the army jawans and silence once and for all the ‘anti-national’ left-wing student protests that erupted in JNU and refused to die down for months. They have now found the textbook definition of a nationalist act to teach to the ‘anti-national’ Kanhaiyas that raise such ‘mundane’ issues as farmer suicides, poverty, class struggles, etc.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks in the grand capitalist plan of this government (and its predecessors too) has been the tribal population and their claims on lands that they have inhabited for eons. What better weapon than jingoism to divert whatever little media attention that activists such as Soni Sori have garnered in highlighting the plight of tribals massacred in the name of development and counter-insurgency?
As scores of Indian citizens die on the streets of Kashmir and hundreds are blinded by pellet guns and millions face uncertain futures, the inept Central government that let curfew prevail for more than twi months now, has found a gem of an armor in striking the external enemy, overtly advertising the cavalier act and thus shifting the focus from the festering failure called Kashmir. As inhabitants of ground zero, Kashmiris are the ones that will lose the most while the rest of the patriots fervently demand war from the comfort of their bedrooms. And this sentiment was echoed by none other than CM Mehbooba Mufti, the coalition partner of the saffron rulers.
Last but not the least, the upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh weigh heavily on the minds of persistent electioneers Modi and Shah. They have personally seen the impact of Dalit-Muslim unity against the saffron party when Shah had to cancel his Agra Dalit ‘outreach’ meeting. A defeat in UP assembly elections is the last thing that they want at this juncture. There is no other ploy as effective than whipping up nationalist frenzy in the name of external terror threats in gaining sweet electoral victory. And they only had to look back at Kargil and Vajpayee to learn that.
While it is anybody’s guess what would happen in a war between neighbors that share more than 3000 km of land border, on the domestic front, ignoring these raging issues that have been the hallmarks of this government in the last several months and celebrating such transient victories called ‘surgical strikes’ will be an irreparable damage to democracy. In this critical juncture, the nation will be best served by some soul-searching in building an inclusive state that will tackle these issues rather than capitalising on a ‘war on terror’, a strategy that has failed much bigger powers in recent times.