Hyper nationalism can’t secure our borders

Columnist  | Pavan K Varma

Opinion, Columnists

It was regrettable too that some political leaders and parties sought proof on whether the strike took place.

In the first four months of 2018, there have already been, again as per government figures, 300 ceasefire violations. (Photo: PTI/File)

Frankly, I am stumped. It has become near impossible now to know what is the definition of patriotism, who is a nationalist, who is not, what qualifies one to be called a patriot, and what damns one to be labelled an anti-national. In the increasing shrillness — and ignorance — of political abuse, it has become futile to attempt to argue, debate, discuss, ask, listen, question, praise or critique. Each such attempt is immediately put in a slot, where the lid is shut on the message, and the entire focus becomes to vilify the messenger.

This quality of national discourse is nothing short of a disaster for a civilisation-state like India. The foundations of our civilisation, going back to the dawn of time, were based on moulik soch, the power of original thought. Our freedom struggle too was founded on a highly cerebral basis, where even people on the same side had the freedom to differ, and the opportunity to interrogate and debate. What has happened over the years that, today, the bona fides of anybody who does not immediately conform to one or the other brittle polarities of political discourse are questioned? In fact, discourse itself is suspect. If you have any doubts in the matter just watch some of the “debates” on our leading TV channels.

I want to raise this issue especially in the context of national security. Undoubtedly, this is a sensitive subject. In a situation of war or a declared national crisis, the democratically elected government of the day is fully entitled to take such decisions as it deems appropriate, and all political parties, irrespective of other differences, must unite in solidarity to support such action.

It was in this spirit that the JD(U) was one of the first parties to express support for the surgical strike that took place in September 2016 against Pakistan Army/terrorist bases in PoK. We placed on record our deep appreciation for the valour, courage and daring of our brave armed forces. And we did not ask for any proof about whether the surgical strike took place. Such a stand was based on the express recognition of the fact that the government of the day, based on inputs that it receives which are confidential, is best placed to act in national interest, and it is not appropriate to raise questions merely on the basis of political partisanship in these matters. It is significant that the JD(U) took this measured and responsible position even when at that time it was in the Opposition, and not a member of the ruling coalition, the NDA.

It was expected of the government that, having announced that a surgical strike had been carried out, and congratulated our armed forces for their bravery and courage, it would not seek to derive any political dividends from an act in national interest, which by definition, is above political acrimony. It was regrettable too that some political leaders and parties sought proof on whether the strike took place. In the face of such gratuitous and misplaced provocation, the correct response of the government should have been not to overreact, and reiterate the points highlighted by the DGMO and other senior Army officers on what had been achieved.

But some 20 months after the surgical strike, the government has countenanced the release of an “edited” video of the surgical strike. What was the need for this? Would not such evidence, when none was sought to be provided, endanger national security? On whose authorisation was such an “edited” video prepared? How did it get “leaked”? Is the government planning to take action against those who could have “leaked” such sensitive footage, and if not, why not? If at all the government felt that such evidence could now be shared publicly, why did the ministry of defence not release the video officially, and take ownership of the material? And finally, how is it that even the “leak” happened selectively, with some media outlets claiming huge credit for “breaking” this video, while others were not so favoured?

A second question concerns what the government is planning to do in the future to stem Pakistan’s continued and increased ceasefire violations. To attempt to draw attention to this matter has nothing to do with the validity of the surgical strikes, which is a finished chapter, and is no longer a matter of doubt or debate. But almost two years after the strike, it is a matter of concern that there has been an exponential increase in the number of ceasefire violations by Pakistan. In 2017, there were, as per government figures, 110 violations. In the first four months of 2018, there have already been, again as per government figures, 300 ceasefire violations. This has led to loss of lives — martyrdom of our armed forces, and deaths of innocent civilians — apart from great damage to property. In fact, Pakistan Army shelling continued unabated even during the unilateral ceasefire declared by our government during Ramzan.

Is asking the government on what it proposes to do to handle the current situation on the border wrong? Or, is such a debate, part of the fabric of democracy, where all citizens, and all responsible political parties, are stakeholders in national security, and can raise issues about the depredations against our country, without being told that they are anti-national, can go to Pakistan, are denigrating our armed forces, and strengthening anti-Indian elements in Pakistan? On the contrary, the fact that in a democracy like ours such a debate is possible, even desirable, is precisely what makes India different from Pakistan.

The time has come for our country to find the right middle ground between unwarranted cynicism and unnecessary hype where national security is concerned. To ask the right questions, even about national security, is the job of the political Opposition. To answer, without questioning the motivations of the interrogator, is the duty of the government. This is how mature democracies work. But if we are not careful, democracy will soon be replaced by demagoguery in the name of a contrived hyper nationalism that does little justice to our credentials as a civilisation-state.