It is late Friday evening, the 1st of March. Social media is agog. Politicians, Bollywood celebrities, cricketers and the general public are united in welcoming Wing Commander Abhinandan. As I wrIte this, my neighbour is playing “Jai Ho” at an alarming volume. It is heartwarming to see people across the nation come together for an officer who has been through a lot in the last 60 hours. The courage and poise Wng. Cmdr. Abhinandan Varthaman displayed is definitely something that will be spoken about with immense respect in the future.
However, the unsavoury reactions from politicians, certain journalists and war mongering followers of select political parties, begs a larger, pertinent question – ‘Are we worth fighting for?’
While we ponder over that strange question, let’s take a moment and remember how India reacted over the last few days.
The ruling party grandstanded. Fueling a dangerous hyper-nationalist narrative, PM Modi declared that his “blood boiled” after the Pulwama attacks, and that he gave the armed forces “complete freedom” to act. What followed was a clash between two nuclear states. Across social media, supporters hailed Modi as the decisive defender of the nation. The chief priest of Ayodhya said that the incident would save BJP in 2019. Karnataka BJP chief Yeddurappa opined that the strikes would help BJP win 22 out of 28 seats in the upcoming elections.
Instead of halting election campaigning as a mark of respect, the BJP put up posters of the slain martyrs at several party headquarters and on the backdrop of stages during their campaign rallies. Somewhere in the melee, the PM managed to launch the “Khelo India app” to promote fitness. The BJP vociferously accused the opposition of politicising the incident (ironically from stages at election rallies). Amit Shah blamed Jawaharlal Nehru for the Kashmir issue and RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat claimed that the RSS could prepare an army in 3 days.
The opposition parties weren’t far behind. Instead of playing the role of a responsible opposition and asking hard questions about the colossal intelligence failure, and pushing for a more concrete Kashmir policy, they declared their support to the government in a carefully worded statement, out of fear of being viewed as anti-national.
Kashmiri merchants and students were threatened, attacked and forced to “prove” their patriotism on several incidents. The Meghalaya Governor, Tathagata Roy, who calls himself a “Right-wing Hindu socio-political thinker, writer, ideologue…” on twitter, supported a call for the boycott of all Kashmiris. He was not removed from his constitutional position despite clearly provoking communal tensions. This is a man who, in the past, has openly said that he is “not secular”.
The media had a field day. From journalists dressing up in the army uniform and holding toy guns in the television studios, to government-friendly anchors openly calling for war with Pakistan, it was an embarrassing time for sections of the Indian media who kept the rhetoric high with no substance or dignity. ‘Peaceniks’, liberals, activists and academics were heckled for suggesting dialogue as a lasting solution and retired army hotheads were allowed to make hateful, warmongering speeches on national television.
It is the season for patriotic movies. Despite the fraternity publicly pledging their support for the forces, Bollywood producers lost no time in rushing to register titles such as “Abhinandan”, “Balkot” “Surgical Strike 2”, “How’s the Josh?”, “Pulwama” etc. I guess solidarity takes a backseat at the box office.
Let’s not even get started on the fake WhatsApp videos, no-holds barred hate against muslims, the covering of “Karachi” in “Karachi Bakery” in Bengaluru and other ridiculous happenings.
The obvious, bitter truth? We are pathetically opportunistic and don’t really care for our soldiers.
If we truly cared for our soldiers, ex-BSF jawan, Tej Bahadur Yadav would not have been dismissed for complaining about poor food quality, the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme would have been given better consideration and our politicians wouldn’t be using our soldiers for selfish, narrow political gain. Today PM Modi who was campaigning in Tamil Nadu said that everyone was “proud that Abhinandan is from Tamil Nadu” (despite the wing commander refusing to reveal his roots to Pakistani interrogators).
It is disappointing that despite sending countless space missions, India cannot seem to come together in the face of terror. We seem to want Kashmir but not the Kashmiris, we tar and feather religious communities and browbeat people who disagree with the majoritarian viewpoint. It’s time Indians stopped being swayed by simplistic, shameful political rhetoric because these reactions are exactly what the terrorists want.
Indian armed forces defend the idea of India – the right of a citizen to criticize and express without fear or intimidation, an India where every voice counts and where every life matters. This is the idea of India a soldier should feel proud defending. Our recent reactions don’t do justice to their efforts.
Wing Commander Abhinandan did his duty and conducted himself with dignity. We did not. It’s time for some introspection and change.