On February 14, 2019, in Pulwama, India saw one of the most horrible attacks on Paramilitary forces in the world, and one of the worst terrorist attacks in Kashmir in the last 30 years. An SUV with explosives rammed into a van carrying CRPF jawans. The van was part of a caravan of CRPF vehicles. It resulted in the death of more than 40 CRPF jawans. The attack was claimed by a Pakistan-based terrorist group, the Jaish-e- Mohammad, and was executed by the 22-year-old Kashmiri named Adil Ahmad Dar. The whole country was stunned and dismayed following the cowardly attack.
With events like these, the media has the vital job of giving out accurate information to the people; however, not surprisingly, the Indian media did precisely what they are infamous for. It was merely a piece of breaking news for them! The newsrooms were full of Pakistan bashing, riding on the sentiment of ordinary people; the cry for vengeance. And it wasn’t even against the terrorist group responsible. It was against Pakistan.
It’s no secret that Pakistan is home to major terrorist groups, and it’s high time that the Pakistan government took some stringent action against them. Amidst all the chaos of a seemingly-approaching ‘war’, India undertook many harsh diplomatic options, such as removing Pakistan from its position as ‘Most Favored Nation’ and taking the case to the United Nations. The entire world was in support of India.
There are several questions in the minds of the common folk, yet the government isn’t being questioned. How can an assault of this magnitude take place in one of India’s most volatile military areas? How did our Intelligence agencies fail? Why were so many soldiers travelling at once? Why is Kashmir’s situation deteriorating day by day? The citizens of India were overwhelmed by emotions and sentiments, but no one dared to ask questions about their government. Moreover, the paid-media did an excellent job diverting the average person’s mind towards despising Pakistan and seeking retribution through war plan.
On February 26, after the Pulwama attack, the Indian Air Force conducted an air-strike at terrorist base camps in Pakistan. The whole of India woke up to this news, and everyone was celebrating. Pakistan grumbled that India violated their air space. Journalists affirmed that this was Pakistan’s defeat when our government had made a clear statement that it was a non-military attack on the terrorist camps they had identified, not on the Pakistani army. The newsrooms turned into war rooms, war strategies were discussed, and the population was fueled with pro-war sentiments.
The Pakistan army retaliated by violating the cease-fire near the border. The Indian Army replied to the retaliation with heavy firing. The following morning, Pakistan fighter planes violated Indian air space. The Indian Air Force responded sent fighter jets, and one of them was shot down, after taking down two Pakistan counterparts. Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan, while chasing the Pakistani fighter jet, ended up in their territory, and was then held captive. The Pakistan army had violated the Geneva Convention, and even then released a video of Wing Commander Abhinandan. Due to this, the building tension between India and Pakistan escalated. India demanded the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan. The entire world suggested that both India and Pakistan act with patience and not resort to a full-fledged war. In the end, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in Parliament that they would release Abhinandan as a peace gesture.
The Indian media reported Imran Khan’s decision as a win ensured by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which was just outright incorrect. They even declared this act by Imran Khan as an act of surrender. One can easily see the level to which the media stooped to praise the Prime Minister, to show him as a legend, even at the cost of making the situation worse. The news reports were provocative and could have led to unwanted action from Pakistan. Thankfully, Wing Commander Abhinandan returned home safely, and things calmed down. However, his return was politicized by the ruling party, and the media helped them by acting as their spokesperson. Not just this incident, but every episode from the Pulwama attack to the Balakot air strikes, and even the escalation of the war-like situation on the border was thoroughly politicised.
Politicians unapologetically exploited public sentiment after the Pulwama attack and diverted their attention from critical questions. In fact, with the help of the media, they incited war-like feelings among an already hostile and emotional population. All the blame was put on Pakistan, and the government took no responsibility. The people who dared to ask such question were severely criticized for politicizing the attacks and, as always, were termed as ‘anti-national’.
Similarly, when the tensions rose to an all-time high, the media was up in arms, figurative guns blazing, yelling for war. So-called defence experts were invited to the newsrooms, and they made as little sense as the news anchors. It was all reckless shouting, just like the young boys I saw on the road, riding their bikes with no helmet, tripling, flag in hand, shouting “Hindustan Zindabad’ and “Pakistan Murdabad”. Both these groups were baring their hyper-aggressive nationalism.
How difficult is it to understand the cost of the tragedy that war brings? Why can’t we realize that inciting this rage and hatred within ourselves, as armchair activists in the comfort of our bedrooms and air-conditioned newsrooms, would lead to the sacrifices of OUR Army men!
A very famous and controversial comedian once said that if the Indo-Pak issue is resolved, then the government will have no option but to answer the crucial questions on relevant socio-political and economic problems — they will not have any diversions for the public.
In the last five years, there have been several questions that the government should have answered. But no one bats an eyelid as long as we are fighting against our ‘arch-nemesis’. The person who dares to raise questions, I am afraid, is either termed as ‘anti-national’ or an ‘agent of Pakistan’ or opposition and in some cases, even put to death, just like our democracy has been. The government is taking away our power to ask questions and our power to dissent. This is being done systematically, with the help of our news channels. We are made to consume fake news, which is based on propaganda. It is simple: today, either you support the sitting government unthinkingly or you are part of the anti-national group.
The core of any democracy lies in dissent, but the whole system of criticism is now being demolished. This is the slow death of democracy.