BJP's Pakistan obsession may be poll strategy, but makes India look like its neighbour
The problem with India's singular obsession with Pakistan is this: It makes us their exact replica; a reflection of their obsession. It makes us sick.
The BJP has a standard template for electoral politics. It first needs to create an adversary, then build it up as a threat to the country, or at least its majority, and then position itself as the nation's savior.
Since 1989, the BJP has designed every election campaign around building up the threat from an adversary — both imagined and real — and then marketing itself as guardian angel of the country.
Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with the BJP strategy. Marketing gurus know three basic human emotions — fear, hope and greed — are always vulnerable to exploitation. So, depending on their leanings, learnings and capabilities, everyone who has something to sell and profit from, targets one or all of them.
The BJP has chosen wisely. The party knows majority of Indians are obsessed with several things: Caste hierarchy, notions of superiority of their religion, Kashmir and, of course, Pakistan. The party knows it will never run out of options for using fear of the "enemy" as an electoral strategy.
So, a cyclical pattern follows: Ram Temple, Babri Masjid, beef, Dalits, Article 370, Uniform Civil Code, Pakistan, Ram Temple... Repeat.
This year, after pressing beef and Kashmir (the JNU episode) into service, the BJP has stepped on the pedal on Pakistan, showing inchoate readiness for raising the heat on Ram Temple. (It is never a bad idea to spread your electoral eggs in different baskets.)
Courtesy the BJP's stratagem, Pakistan has been our full-time obsession for the past few weeks. Like twins conjoined with hatred and fear, everything that India has done and talked about since September has been linked to Pakistan.
Saarc was all about Pakistan. Brics was primarily about the 'mothership of terrorism' parked in our western neighbourhood. Vijaydashmi speeches featured a familiar Ravana, the one with ten faces of terror. TV anchors, attired in battle fatigues, have been nuking Pakistan from their studios. On social media, bravehearts have conducted polls to find out how many of us are willing to get evaporated in nuclear heat to teach Pakistan a lesson.
Artistes are being banned, films are being blocked and film stars are being targetted for arguing art has no boundary. And those talking about peace and denouncing war are, well, being dispatched to Pakistan.
If a shrink were to put us on a couch, the reading would have been simple: Hysteria caused by compulsive obsession with Pakistan.
It is easy to trace the origin of our collective hatred and fear of Pakistan. We see it as a country that destroyed the post-Independence dream of 'Akhand Bharat' and has since made several attempts to break us, especially by fomenting trouble in Kashmir and launching covert and overt wars.
But, the problem with this singular obsession with Pakistan is this: It makes us their exact replica; a reflection of their obsession. It makes us sick.
As Ramachandra Guha points out in The Indian Express, the raison d'être of the Pakistani army, clergy, establishment and elite has always been: "We are not, and we are against, India."
When you hate a person, Confucius once said, you get defeated by that person. We have seen this philosophy in action in Pakistan. Our neighbour's morbid obsession with India has led it to a path of financial ruin, a burdensome arms race and converted its own backyard into a playground of jihadists it had bred against India.
Only a few years ago, it seemed we had stopped caring about Pakistan. Our rocketing GDP, stable democracy, liberal values, independent institutions had convinced us of our right to compete with better and more capable adversaries. Even on the cricket field, after walloping Pakistan in every single major tournament, pity for the vanquished neighbour had become the defining emotion.
"When they go low," Michelle Obama said at the Democratic Convention, "we go high." India had always maintained its moral and ethical edge over Pakistan by wisely adhering to the philosophy she referred to. Even though Pakistan remained a thorn in our flesh, India did not reflect the neighbour's hatred, biases, bigotry and obsession. We invited their artistes, writers, singers, actors. We gave them work and adulation. In return, we invaded their market with our soft power. This made many in Pakistan know deep inside their heart that India was different from them, something that every would easily admit.
But, suddenly, we are back at par with Pakistan. As Mohammad Hanif writes in The New York Times: "Pakistani peace-mongers used to look at India with some envy — all that diversity, all those gods. And then an army that is answerable to an elected government. Now they look at India aghast: Their potential partners in peace across the border are beginning to sound like the bigots back home. India is becoming more like Pakistan."
It takes a lot to sustain so much hatred and anger. As time passes by, either they dissipate or, if left to survive in full febrile force, completely consume and alter its victim. India's history has shown that its people ultimately move on, shedding the odious obsessions foisted on them. So, there is hope that we will get over our current Pakistan phase.
The only worry is this: UP elections and Ram Temple are waiting.
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