Pak boat row: Modi govt pays price of turning terror into PR event

Coast Guard DIG BK Loshali was quite clear on that fateful night of 31 December about what he didn’t want the ‘anti-nationals’ to eat.

“We don’t want to serve biryani’ to them,” he reportedly boasted.

It would be interesting to find out what the coast guard DIG was drinking on the New Year ’s eve. And, more importantly, why the government blindly believed the Coast Guard theory of terrorists blowing themselves up in the Indian Ocean?

 Pak boat row: Modi govt pays price of turning terror into PR event

Image of the boat that was stopped by the Coast Guard. PTI image

Now that the terror boat theory has blown into the Indian face, the government doesn’t know what to do. If it backtracks from its claim that the boat was indeed carrying terrorists and that it was torched by its occupants, it will be a major embarrassment for India. It will be a moral and diplomatic victory for Pakistan. And if it cracks down on Loshali, it would appear that it is hounding the ‘whistleblower’.

"It has once again been proven that India has violated international rules and disregarded the humanitarian considerations," Pakistan defence minister Khawaja Asif said in a statement.

The minister went on to say that India not only made baseless allegations about Pakistan before as in the case of Samjhauta Express, but were involved in killing four innocent lives on board this boat.

With one slip of tongue, Loshali has destroyed all the goodwill the government had earned through its invite to Nawaz Sharif for Narendra Modi’s swearing-in and the telephone call diplomacy over the cricket world cup. Irrespective of Pakistan's erratic actions, we at least had the moral high ground until now. Who is responsible for this blunder?

It is no secret that Indian security forces have made several mistakes, committed human rights violations in the past. They have killed people in fake encounters in Kashmir, often for personal glory and sometimes to attract the attention of the international community and to whip up nationalist fervour.

In March 2000, for instance, the killing of Sikhs of Chitisinghpura and later of militants suspected of the assault at Panchalthan while US President Bill Clinton was in the sub-continent erupted into a major controversy. The Indian government blamed terrorists from Pakistan for the massacre but many Kashmiris suspected the Indian forces of faking the Chitisinghpura murders and the subsequent encounter.

A few years later, soon after the 2007 Samjhauta Express blasts, intelligence sources were quick to blame militants in Pakistan for the incident. Later, some Hindutva outfits were chargesheeted for carrying out the blasts; some of them are still lodged in Indian jails.

In Gujarat, many encounters, including that of Ishrat Jahan, have been questioned as dubious --  even though the Modi government of Gujarat had been quick to showcase these incidents as symbols of its alacrity and efficacy. Dozens of officers have since been tried in various courts for killing ‘terror suspects’ and sent to jails.The jury, however, is still out.

The point is this: there have been major controversies in the past about encounters, terror links and bomb blasts and Pakistan has always been the usual suspect. But the government has not learnt the most important lesson from such fiascoes: always double check facts; think before you speak.

The terror boat incident would not have been such a disaster if the Narendra Modi government had not rushed into boasting how security forces had averted a major terror strike, a repeat of 26/11. All it had to do was to be a little circumspect, order an internal probe and then make its stand public.

Instead, it played to the galleries. It tried to use it for burnishing the Modi Raj’s image as the alert guardian of our borders—a contrast against the Manmohan Singh era when anybody could have rowed a boat laden with explosives to Mumbai—and used the opportunity to address its core constituency: the jingoistic, chest-thumping nationalists who love Pakistan-bashing.

The Modi government has been criticized for creating unnecessary hype around everything it does; of giving a spin to even mundane, routine events. In the past it used events like Teachers Day, Gandhi Jayanti and Christmas for either addressing its Hindutva-leaning supporters or appropriating the Gandhi-Nehru legacy.

We have had prime ministers going abroad since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru; Rajiv Gandhi, like Modi, was also a frequent globe-trotter. Even in the past, US presidents and Chinese premiers have visited India. But the Modi government succeeded in creating the impression that it had taken India to an altogether different level of foreign policy and diplomacy.

Given its propensity to use almost every occasion as a PR opportunity for the government—in which is helped by sections of the media that share its blinkered vision of nationalism-- it is evident that the temptation to use the ‘terror boat’ incident as another opportunity to pat itself on the back would have been impossible to resist.

But now, in spite of the bravado, it must be ruing its decision to play to the galleries. For, no matter what happens in the future, even a detailed probe or strict action against Loshali, will not erase the impression that the inexperienced foreign minister, the publicity-hungry government and trigger-happy coast guards, have combined together to leave egg on India’s face, instead of biryani on the table.

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

Updated Date: Feb 19, 2015 15:25:51 IST