Minutes before Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened a meeting of top ministers to discuss the government's strategy following the Uri attack, news broke that the name of the road, which houses the official residence of the PM, had been changed to Lok Kalyan Marg.
Nothing could be more ironic than the timing of the move. It came at a time when the nation was eagerly awaiting to know how India would respond to the attack. How it would show its shakti (force) if you will, flowing from the might and decisiveness of its shaktiman (powerful) prime minister to a perennially errant neighbour in Pakistan. The government of India, by announcing the decision, officially told the world that on that day, the concerns of the political brass were different.
In doing so, the government showed that it was more concerned about an image makeover — by stating that the reigning prime minister lives on Lok Kalyan Marg, and hence lives for lok kalyan (public welfare).
True, that the prime minister's basic mandate is to work for public welfare, but does that mean that he has to necessarily live on a road that bears lok kalyan (public welfare) as its name? Prime Minister Modi, the first in the last 30 years to have a clear majority on his own, represents lok shakti, and hence becomes sarv shaktiman — thus, he is required to assert power when the situation demands.
Given the national mood in the aftermath of the Uri attack and the hype generated by the series of meetings on Wednesday, it would have been more appropriate if the government had renamed Race Course Road as Lok Shakti Marg.
Though a race course might be considered as elitist, but it's a fact that only the mightiest of political horses have lived on Race Course Road, either driven by circumstances or by being clear winners in the race. What's in a name, they say. It seems that the pratham sewak and his government clearly believe in it, quite a lot.
The issue that is agitating the minds of more than 120 crore Indians is much bigger than the name of the road where the prime minister resides. The nation is concerned with its honour, the lives of its people and teaching a lesson to a rouge neighbour in a manner that ensures that it does not dare repeat any such ghastly terror act.
As this author had written earlier, the real test of Modi's supposed 56-inch chest lies in how he rises to the occasion and in the kind of response he gives to Pakistan following the Uri attack.
Former Finance and External Affairs Minister in the Vajpayee Government, Yashwant Sinha, in an article in the Indian Express wrote: "India should, however, not be deterred in the pursuit of its goal. I have repeatedly said that the fight against Pakistan sponsored terrorism is India’s fight alone. Others will sympathise with us, commiserate with us, condemn the terror strike and forget about it. We should not. We must remember every wound Pakistan has inflicted on us, every hurt, every humiliation it has caused us and every martyr who has made the supreme sacrifice for the nation,"
"Indira Gandhi showed this courage in 1971, we should show it now...We, in the BJP, must remember that the people of India will judge us by our standards and our utterances on the strength of which we came to power, not by the standards of other political parties...We all want peace with Pakistan but we must remember that sometimes the road to peace passes through war," Sinha wrote.
PM Modi has not spoken on the subject since Sunday and the only indication of what he thinks of the issue and how he wants to deal with the situation is evident from his first response, made public through a tweet:
We strongly condemn the cowardly terror attack in Uri. I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 18, 2016
Incidentally, the CCS did meet on Wednesday morning ahead of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) and the Cabinet meeting, though only for a few minutes. Apparently, the meeting was held to clear the acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in order to augment the fighter power of the Indian Air Force. Sources said that the Uri attack was not discussed in that CCS meet and that only the ministers met with the concerned officials, in the absence of the three armed forces chiefs.
The government and the BJP, it seems, are reading too much into the prime minister's words, "those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished". Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, at a function on Wednesday, reiterated Modi's words to give a sense of confidence and assurance to people.
"I don't think the PM's initial words that "those responsible will be punished" will go as a mere statement. How to punish, that is for us to work out," Parrikar said. He talked about a fast and furious reaction, which made the headlines, but then himself ruled that out saying that as a responsible nation India had to make a considered move. "Sometimes I can have a knee jerk reaction too. But we are a responsible nation," he said.
The nation would be keenly awaiting Modi's address at a public rally in Kozhikode on Saturday, to get a sense what kind of retribution people can expect for the Uri and Pathankot attacks on army bases.
Modi and the entire BJP leadership – top to some tiers below – would be in Kozhikode for three days beginning from 23 September for the party's national executive and council meeting. Though the meet is officially dedicated to the party's foremost ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyaya's birth centenary, all the party leaders and workers would be curious to understand how Modi plans to walk the talk vis-à-vis Pakistan, for much of BJP's future prospects would depend on the way Modi chooses to shape the party's and his own image.