A J Philip
No one knows the war better than an Indian.
His greatest epic is the Mahabharata, a quarter of which describes in vivid
detail the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The war did not last
long. It lasted just 18 days but it killed 80 per cent of the menfolk in the
In the end, no one was left to
celebrate the victory. Hastinapur, which the Pandavas ruled for a few decades
afterwards, was a land of widows and orphans.
Even the great military strategist,
Lord Krishna, without whom the Pandavas would have been roundly defeated, had
to leave Hastinapur with his clan and he eventually fell to the arrow of a
hunter. Some may dismiss the Kurukshetra war as a myth that won’t stand human
scrutiny. So let’s return to the real world in which you and I live.
Germany was responsible for starting
two world wars. After the end of the First World War, the country was in ruins
having to pay reparations making the defeat even more unbearable. Of course, it
helped the National Socialists to come to power. The Second World War saw Adolf
Hitler committing suicide before the country was split into two.
War creates only orphans and widows.
We have seen it in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Lebanon. We have also fought
our own wars with Pakistan and we also have a fair share of orphans and widows.
Can we afford to wage another war?
The answer is clear that we cannot.
But in television studios, news anchors were boisterously demanding punishment
of Pakistan. No other country has as many television channels as India. There
are over 400 of them, some with no viewership at all.
They are run on a shoestring budget
with no proper salary to the staff, let alone any remuneration to those who are
invited to attend their discussions where the anchors shout more loudly than
any discussant. Some do not even offer a cup of tea or coffee to the invited
guests, because they do not have the necessary funds.
Yet, the anchors have been
competitively demanding war against Pakistan, as if they are the custodians of
public opinion in this nation of 1.3 billion people. As a journalist friend
said, they are the ones who would not dare to go out of the house at night to
check the source of a suspicious sound. However, they would create a war
hysteria because it suits those in power.
Anyone who is against war is portrayed
as an anti-national. When I wrote that we are free to believe in anything in a
WhatsApp group of journalists, one gentleman wrote that I could not. What he
implied was that one must believe as the Gospel truth anything put out by the
In 1962, I was just aspiring to be a
teen. In that year, I remember taking part in a procession in which we school
children shouted slogans against China. Our slogans were sharp and they made
fun of the “flat-nosed” Chou-en-Lai. We were inspired by the newspaper reports
which carried fictitious stories of Indian troops giving the Chinese a bloody
I still remember our neighbour
Panicker, who enjoyed discussing the war with my grandfather, speculating about
how long the Indian troops would take to reach Beijing, called Peking those
days. It was many years later that I learnt the truth about the war when I read
the book ‘Himalayan Blunder’. Whoever said that truth is the first casualty in
war could not have put it better.
I also remember the day the AB
Vajpayee government tested a nuclear weapon at Pokhran. Without any
provocation, a BJP leader of Delhi challenged Pakistan for war at any time and
date of its choosing. I dismissed him as a madcap, though he enjoyed a
groundswell of support in the Capital.
He did not repeat the needless
challenge when, a day after, Pakistan tested its own nuclear weapon at Ras Koh
Hills in the Chagai district of Balochistan province. For once, the size of the
military, the superiority of the weapons we hold and the nation’s fighting prowess
began to look inconsequential, as both claimed to have reached nuclear parity.
On the night when the Indian military
aircraft flew across the Line of Control in Kashmir and the border in Punjab
and dropped bombs in Pakistan, there was a clamour for war, created essentially
by the media. There was suddenly claims that India was safe in the hands of a
leader “who does what he promises”.
Karnataka BJP chief B.S. Yediyurappa
earned opprobrium when he said that the surgical strike would help the BJP sweep
the polls in the state in May. On the other end was the Samajwadi Party leader
and former minister Vinod Kumar claiming that India and Pakistan had a secret
deal under which India would drop some bombs in deserted areas without causing
any harm to either the military or the civilian population. He pooh-poohed the
claim that hundreds of terrorists were killed in the strike.
The Prime Minister also did not
conduct himself well, as he gave more importance to garnering votes than to
holding an all-party meeting to tell the whole nation that India had no other
option but to strike at those harbouring terrorists.
Modi could have gained the moral high
ground if he had said that India was not against the common people of Pakistan
and it only wanted to root out the scourge of terrorism. Instead, he let his
party leaders and cheerleaders talk nonsense. For instance, one party MLA was
heard in a video warning Pakistan that if it wanted to survive, it must fall at
the feet of India.
He also threatened that India would
build dams across the rivers and make power to be used for the development of
the country. He said that if the Pakistanis did anything doubtful, then the
dams would be opened to let the water wipe away the whole of Pakistan and
deposit it in the Indian Ocean. He called it a “water bomb”.
One Union minister with prime
ministerial ambitions said that India would not give Pakistan its own share of
water. India was within its rights to use the Indian share of the river water
and nobody prevented it from using it. His statement was interpreted as a
warning that India would divert the waters of the Punjab and deny Pakistan even
drinking water. Uncontrolled jingoism serves no purpose.
Be that as it may, the situation in
2019 is not the same as in 1962. Technology has made it possible for everyone
to crosscheck what he or she hears. We live in times when the student instantly
checks on his smartphone what the teacher says in the classroom.
This is all the more reason that the
government should be truthful. The Indian government proved that its military
had the capacity to make deep incursions into Pakistan and it should have ended
the matter there.
On the day Indian aircraft returned
unharmed, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had to hear “shame, shame” from
the Opposition MPs. He is also a politician like Narendra Modi and he, too, is
conscious of his image. He had to prove Pakistan’s capability to retaliate and
that is what he did.
One very significant move was Khan’s
decision to release the Indian pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, held captive by the
Pakistanis. His announcement was greeted with thumping of desks by the
Pakistani MPs. To say that Pakistan was not doing a favour but only complying
with the Geneva protocol is to miss the woods for the trees. It should be seen
as a gesture of de-escalation.
As I write this, what is trending on
Twitter is #saynotowar that shot into the number one position. The Delhi School
of Journalism students produced a short video that showed young men and women
speaking in one voice against the war. In short, the mood of the nation is
against the war.
But Modi is more interested in winning
votes. He used even the inauguration of the War Memorial to attack the
Opposition. It was a sacred function to honour the martyrs but he became banal.
A Prime Minister should rise above petty politics when the nation faces a
crisis. We need peace, not war. Let’s remember that we can choose friends but a
nation can’t choose neighbours. Let the hostilities end and let the diplomats
take over after the IAF has done its job. (IPA