The government should have seen it coming.
If political parties had big questions on the surgical strike by the defence forces across the border the day it was announced by the Director General Military Operations (DGMO), they kept these in abeyance. The defence forces enjoy special respect in the country and no one takes their words lightly. Thus, if they said there was such a strike then it had to be accepted at face value. Realising that they should be kept above politics and unnecessary attention Prime Minister Narendra Modi cautioned his party leaders to exercise restraint, more specifically, to avoid being jingoistic while discussing the 28 September military action in response to Uri attack. But that was too much to expect.
Soon, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was comparing Pakistan to an anaesthetised patient who still had no idea that surgery had already been conducted on him. While promising Pakistan a similar response if it continued with its misadventure, he compared the Indian Army to Lord Hanuman who after being made aware of its powers by him followed the instruction of the prime minister to give the Pakistanis a crushing blow. The gush media made the matter political by giving excessive credit to the political leadership — read Narendra Modi — for the decision and putting leaders before him in poor light. In election-bound Uttar Pradesh, media reports say, there are BJP posters celebrating the army’s action.
As a military action gradually took a strong political hue, the questions held in abeyance by political rivals of the BJP started flowing. The irrepressible Arvind Kejriwal took the lead by indirectly asking the government to produce the proof of the surgical strike. The Congress, while claiming all support to the government, has asked the same. One can expect other parties to join the chorus soon. By all indications, it’s going to be a dirty affair with the defence forces getting dragged into political muckraking. It’s this very scenario the prime minister wanted to avoid. However, if he wanted to convey a message to his party’s leaders and his supporters outside the party circle through his sober, statesmanlike speeches post-Uri, it never found the target.
One has to be remarkably naive or full of contempt for the ability of our defence forces to conclude that they sat helpless, twiddling their thumbs when the earlier terrorist attacks or Pakistan army’s hostile actions on the border took place. They certainly deserve more respect. After all, it is a force that has defeated Pakistan four times over the last several decades. Of course, they crossed the LoC routinely to neutralise terrorists; several former generals of the army vouch for this. They had the full backing of the political leadership then as they have now. The Congress has come out with three such major strikes in UPA’s period — in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
The only difference between then and now is there’s a sexier and more macho expression for the action: surgical strike. It sounds so much better than cross-border raids! Also, the political leadership has taken the ownership of the military action openly for the first time. Take out the pompousness in all that assertion of muscular power in the media and the manufactured sense of victory — how can the killing a few terrorists make up for the loss of 18 soldiers? And, pray, what victory are we talking about? - nothing much has changed on the ground. Firing continues across LoC and Pakistan continues where it was. If it’s scared and begging for mercy from India, it’s only in our media’s imagination.
Now is the time to bring some sanity to the discourse, save diplomacy from street sentiment and insulate the defence forces from politics. India can survive with a discredited political class, a media without principles, but it cannot have its military, one of the most revered institutions, shrinking in public esteem. The prime minister must intervene quickly and put a stop to the politicisation of the action of the forces. He can begin at home, his own party.