SINCE the Pulwama attack and the subsequent ‘air strikes’ by India and Pakistan, the subcontinent has been brought to the brink of a dangerous war. Such a climate of war between two nuclear-armed powers, accompanied by irresponsible media talk asking for the “nuclear bluff” to be called, presents a serious danger for the subcontinent and the world.
First came India’s air strike targeting a Jaish-e-Muhammad seminary in Balakot, Pakistan. India claimed this was a “non-military pre-emptive strike” - a formulation for the consumption of international legal opinion, but in the domestic political discourse the Modi Government projected it as a retaliatory strike for the Pulwama attacks.
Pakistan in turn dropped bombs in Rajouri, India. An Indian pilot whose plane was shot down was captured by Pakistan. The pilot was, however, returned to India by Pakistan in what the Pakistani Prime Minister called a gesture towards peace.
However, peace remains elusive, with repeated shelling across the LoC by Indian and Pakistani forces, claiming the lives of an injuring civilians including small children.
India has claimed to have destroyed a Jaish-e-Muhammad terror camp with its air strike and caused heavy casualties; these claims have been challenged by Pakistan. Independent journalists who have visited the Balakot site have been unable to find any evidence to substantiate the Indian Government’s claims of heavy casualties, and the Government also is yet to place such evidence in the public domain. The Indian Air Force has also made it clear that it is not in a position to offer any estimate of the number of casualties. So the exact impact, if any, of the Balakot air strike is yet to be established.
Throughout the entire unfolding episode, the Government of India has been derelict in its duties. During the Pulwama attack and for hours after the attack, the Prime Minister continued with shooting a Discovery channel film about himself inside the Corbett National Park, and with addressing a public meeting via mobile phone, in which he made no mention of the attack.
Since then, he has been blithely engaged in flagging off half-baked projects, releasing a fitness app, addressing election rallies, and even addressing a mega ‘Mera Booth, Sabse Mazboot’ (My Booth Is Strongest) video-conferencing event with BJP’s election booth workers without once expressing a word about the Indian pilot who was, at the time, still in
Pakistani custody. He topped off this appalling display of insensitivity and irresponsibility by making a cryptic comment, soon after the Pakistani PM’s announcement of his intention to release the Indian pilot, promising that the ‘pilot project’ which had just been completed, would be carried out in real earnest soon.
In the week since the attack, the Defence Minister remained missing in action, and clueless about the air strikes until they had already taken place. Her absence pointed to a dangerous degree of concentration of decisions and information in the person of the Prime Minister and his closest cronies (such as his National Security Advisor Ajit Doval) alone, bypassing all experienced counsel and protocol. This situation continues in spite of the many indicators that the Modi-Doval duo’s questionable decisions played a part in allowing the attacks at Uri, Pathankot, and Pulwama to happen.
BJP leaders including the Prime Minister are also openly seeking to milk Pulwama and its aftermath to seek votes and silence all questions and criticism of the Government. BJP’s former Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa said Pulwama and the air-strikes would achieve a win for Modi and allow BJP to sweep Karnataka. BJP President Amit Shah made an unsubstantiated boast that “more than 250 terrorists” had been killed in the Balakot air strike, and that this was the first time India had made such a retaliatory strike, putting it in the company of the USA and Israel. Shah’s bluff was exposed by none other than a Union Minister of Modi’s own Cabinet, SS Ahluwalia, who said the strike was merely intended as a “warning” and that the government had not made any official claims about the number of casualties.
Modi himself has made statements trying to equate criticism of himself and his Government with “hatred for India.” In an election rally in Tamil Nadu he tried desperately to bring the people of the state on board with his war-mongering agenda by leveraging the fact that the Indian pilot Abhinandan is a native of the state. He also claimed, falsely, that Nirmala Sitharaman, also from Tamil Nadu, is India’s first woman Defence Minister.
Modi now sought to claim that the outcome of the clash with Pakistan post-Pulwama would have been better had India had the Rafale jets. In his efforts to use the Balakot strikes and the war-mongering as a crude device to try and silence questions about the corrupt Rafale deal brokered by him, Modi has actually let slip that the Balakot strike perhaps achieved little.
The BJP’s social media troll army and the Modi Government’s pet TV channels and anchors are busy war-mongering and branding all Modi’s critics as ‘anti-national’. Family members of soldiers who lost their lives in these conflicts have repeatedly spoken out against war-mongering and the political use of soldiers’ deaths. The latest to do so is Vijeta Mandavgane, wife of Ninad Mandavgane, the IAF Squadron Leader killed when his aircraft crashed in Budgam. She has issued a fervent call to people on social media to desist from war-mongering, firmly declaring that she is against wars and the loss of soldiers’ lives on either side of the border. She has instead called for civilians to be responsible citizens by fighting communal hatred and desisting from violence against women. Her words are a sharp rebuke to the many social media handles followed by the PM, which spew communal hatred and ugly misogynist abuse including threats of rape and murder against everyone who questions the Government.
Such appeals by the family members of slain soldiers remind us that contrary to the PM’s callous word-play, no soldier is a “project” and war is not a heady game played for TRPs and electoral gain. In both India and Pakistan, many courageous voices have been raised for peace. Especially welcome is the manner in which Opposition leaders and common citizens in Pakistan made themselves heard - in spite of irresponsible and jingoist media players - against terrorism, for peace and for the safe return of the pilot Abhinandan.
Experience has shown that wars and the cessation of dialogue between India and Pakistan has never curbed cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan, and has jeopardised the possibility of a political solution to the Kashmir dispute. It is essential to hold the Governments of India and Pakistan responsible for ensuring peace and working towards a lasting political solution to the Kashmir dispute.
As we approach the formal beginning of the election period, we must not allow the Modi government to overshadow the election with its now punctured war design. Election period is a time for intense scrutiny and debate about the policies and the performance of the incumbent government and any attempt to stifle this scrutiny and debate by branding it as “anti-national appeasement of Pakistan and terrorism” will be a total mockery of parliamentary elections. Kashmir and Indo-Pak relations have been glaring areas of failure for the Modi regime and the people of Kashmir as well as security forces have suffered much more during the Modi years than the tenure of any previous regime. India must vote out this disastrous regime to strengthen the prospects of peace, democracy and welfare for the common people of India.