The celebratory tone of the air strikes is blunted by the concerns of strategic experts, other than the war-drum beating generals of the news room studios. They have questioned whether the strikes achieved anything and whether it was pragmatic to use air power for a target that is purported to have been soft. The peaceniks have questioned the wisdom of the strikes that have imposed the threat of war in South Asian region. Inspired by similar concerns the international powers have found a foothold of space for prodding not only Pakistan but also India to mend their fences and deal with Kashmir.
A phrase post the Balakot air-strikes repeatedly used by prime minister Narendra Modi and his man Friday Amit Shah, “Hamne Dushman ko Ghar mein ghuss kar mara hai” (We have beaten up the Enemy by entering his house), is worrisome. Everything is fair in love and war, it is said. If this were a war declared by one country on another, perhaps the import of these words would be different. The official position on the air strikes is that they were pre-emptive strikes against terror infrastructure, not Pakistan. The explanation being given was that it wasn’t war against Pakistan but against terrorist camps.
Forgetting all this, even if the air strikes and the way they happened were to be argued as potentially wise and successful and that it was singularly aimed against terrorists and not Pakistan, the jarring tone of ‘beating someone after entering their house’ belies such an assurance. There is a huge mismatch between the official claims of using the explanation of ‘defence’ and ‘deterrence’ as opposed to the political slogans of launching an offensive. That lines between Pakistan and terrorists are being obliterated for political expediency through such rhetoric of beating the enemy in his house obviously has a political import.
The political tone of the language goes beyond the elections and resonates with the Hindutva project of converting India into a Hindu Rashtra. Officially and internationally, his government uses another language but as an election campaigner, Narendra Modi is essentially addressing his core constituency. The evident aim is seeking votes on the basis of the machismo of strikes and the appeal of being an ultra-power. All this is done at the cost of appropriating the Indian Air Force, which belongs to the entire country, not one party. The covert ambition is to inject the poison of hatred and divisiveness and inspire more lawlessness than exists. In a country where difference between Muslim, terrorist, Pakistani is blurred and where targeting of Muslims by mobs inspired by Hindutva frenzy has become routine, such messages have the capacity of not only legitimizing what is already happening but of accelerating the spiral of mob violence. In the last five years, the country has shockingly witnessed rise in incidents of mob lynchings and a political cover-up for such heinous crimes. Frenzied mobs have been silencing minorities and dissenters with their fiery words and also through violence. In the last one month, since the Pulwama attacks, the Kashmiri Muslims have become the prime target. Kashmiri students were recently beaten up and attacked in various parts of the country, shunted out of educational institutions solely on suspicion or allegations of the mobs without giving them a fair hearing. Such incidents leave the secular character of the country in tatters and also impede its economic growth and development which is based on the model of inter-dependence. It endangers the country in multiple ways.
The prime minister recently spoke about a pilot project. The obvious inference was not just air strikes but this entire landscape of hatred, intolerance and mob-violence in which the most likely victim is the Muslim and Kashmiris have become the tool to perpetuate a narrative of hatred that legitimizes that process of victimisation. The impact of creating such an atmosphere has deeper ramifications. A recent report in The Print revealed that Muslim school children in primary schools were being targeted by the children of majority community with taunts like ‘Osama’, ‘Baghdadi’, ‘Mullah’ and ‘Go to Pakistan’. The communal poison has begun to be injected at an age when children are not even conscious of their religion. Was this the ‘pilot project’ Modi was talking about? To what extent is this going to be enlarged.
The air-strikes were a violation of Pakistan’s sovereign air-space. But when that action becomes a petty vote-bank tool and enters the election campaign rally with the machismo of entering people’s house and beating them, in the back-drop of the blurred public perceptions of Pakistani, terrorist and Muslims, such words play an enabling role in lending greater legitimacy to beat up anyone and spread the existing lawlessness horizontally and vertically. Entering ordinary homes and beating up targets in public perception will start becoming a heroic virtue – an idea endorsed and stamped by none less than a prime minister. The words have been carefully picked up not only for their triumphant appeal but for their dualism that serves a long cherished agenda, the pilot project of which has been witnessed in the last five years.
The choice of words which even B-grade Bollywood film-makers would desist from using are being thrown about as some kind of a symbol of high moral conduct. That the prime minister should resort to use of such a vocabulary is itself strikingly appalling. In any civilized culture, the idea of entering homes to beat up its inmates is unacceptable. It amounts to bullying and would be deemed an unlawful activity. Does it behove the head of a civilized nation to use such a language?