Vol. XLIII No. 20 May 19, 2019
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Modi is not Statesman Enough to Understand War

B Arjun

INDIA has a Modi problem. He is a charismatic communicator but an ineffectual leader “beating in the void his luminous wings in vain”. Modi doesn’t understand “war is a statesman game”. He considers his speech to be the trumpet of change that would restore India’s past glory and make it great again. If he had his way, he would pull down all the constitutional bodies and proclaim India to be a one-party theocratic state. He is quintessentially a Hindu supremacist. His abiding hatred for minorities is venomously expressed in his speeches and actions. He is committed to eliminating the secular character of the Indian state. His nationalism is intricately aligned to the global "alt-right" populist movement that thrives on xenophobic and divisive agendas.
 
His strength is that in collusion with his corporate friends, he erected a “cult of stupidity” in the country. Modi has built a right-wing movement outside of his party. He has declared a “cold civil war” in the country and unleashed the coercive character of the agencies of the State to justify his misdemeanours. The institutions serving the constitution stand demoralised. However, his followers think that his “strongman” image, his tyrannical and manipulative ways make him an ideal leader. Modi is a “me-centric” leader. Every criticism of his government is taken as a personal affront. Those who question his policies are consistently identified as either dishonest or anti-nationals. In Modi’s dictionary, reason is treason. In order to shield him from criticism his devotees, identified as bhakts on the social media, launch a concerted attack on the media, universities and liberals. He enjoys the liberty of committing royal fiascos, one after another, because his cult followers just refuse to see the magnitude of harm he has heaped on the nation in the last five years.
 
He is perpetually in a campaign mode. The styles and themes, hinging on polarisation and violence, which first got him elected as the leader of Gujarat in early 2000, continue to be repeated with impunity. It is for this reason that one finds that ever since he came to power in 2014, the nation has been in a constant state of flux. Much like Trump, Modi thinks that chaos in the country is actually “great energy”. He is constantly trying to communicate that that he is proactive and thinks much ahead of events.
 
He began his tenure by piercing the cultural harmony in the country. He turned a blind eye when his supporters went on a lynching spree to reinforce the Hindu hegemony in India. His single act of demonetisation of high value currency notes broke the back of the economy and rendered scores of working class people jobless.
 
With the new election season fast approaching and the spectre of non-performance haunting him, Modi has gone into hyper campaign mode, blatantly using body bags from Kashmir and military sacrifices to boost his election prospects. More recently, he committed a strategic herakeri by using the most sophisticated air elements available with the Indian Air Force to target tiny terrorist camps and in the process infringing the Pakistani sovereign airspace and provoking it to proceed on an escalatory path. The launch of air strikes without perceiving the risk and adversary’s reaction, typically represents the way Modi thinks about war. It was simply assumed that Pakistan will not act against the infringement of its airspace because it was in a financial mess and too isolated.
 
The initial reactions to the military action by Modi government gave an instant boost to his popularity ratings that had taken a severe beating in the wake of revelations of the gross violations of norms and procedures in signing a contract with a French company for purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets. The decisive action was hailed as India’s much awaited response to counter the Pakistan strategy of using proxies to subject India to a “thousand cuts” and call its nuclear bluff.  But the victory processions were short lived. Just one day after the attack, the mood in the country quickly changed as the footage of bleeding Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman captured by Pakistani army began surfacing in the social media on February 27th morning. The embedded war reporters in the Indian television studios and twitter walls could no longer feign ignorance about the ugly truth of war. This was not the end of government’s miscalculations. The government’s handling of the information chaos that often proceeds the end of operations was even more tardy. It made a mockery of the air force operations by doing nothing to stop the misinformation about the number of terrorists that bombs released by Mirage 2000 aircraft had killed in Pakistan.   
 
It is time for the government to answer some tough questions on its policy to tackle militancy in Kashmir and its connection with Pakistan. First, we were told that demonetisation would give a body blow to Kashmiri terrorism by sucking out all the dirty money from their coffers. This myth was shattered when terrorists struck at Uri to kill 20 Indian soldiers. To avenge Uri, “surgical strikes” were launched with the army special units crossing the LoC to hit terrorist camps and videos of the operation circulated freely on social media. These strikes were described as a unique operation in the history of Indian armed force! Bollywood supported the bellicose political environment with a larger than life production of “Uri” that reinforced the macho image of the prime minister by leveraging the heroism of the ‘fauji’. Then in end February when the Pulwama attack happened, the government’s claims about the ultimate efficacy of surgical strikes in teaching Pakistan a lesson fell flat. It was a clear signal that Modi’s masculinity had failed to deter the Pakistani establishment as well as their proxies. The voices of reason questioning the incompetence of intelligence units in piecing together signals about the fidayeen attack in Pulwama that killed 44 CRPF jawans and the presence of a large quantity of RDX in the high security zone of Kashmir were drowned in a cesspool of jingoism and Hindu nationalism. 
 
In the current round of the India-Pakistan aerial dog fight, the perception battle was won by Pakistan. Its prime minister, Imran Khan, scored a diplomatic victory over India’s prime minister by returning the bold IAF pilot. Studies on democracy and wars suggest that electoral pressures restrain democratic leaders' decisions to go to war by providing an incentive to ignore belligerent public opinion. However, Modi appears to be the exception because the pressure of elections and victory is making him do the exact opposite, glorifying war to the status of religion and himself as the ultimate saviour of territory and praja.
 
The decision to go to war cannot be based on myths and fables that one accumulates in adolescence. Unfortunately, Modi’s understanding of war is based on stories of valour of Hindu monarchs and princes in the battlefields, picked up in various RSS gatherings that he attended in his growing up years.  His mind is filled with terms like prahaar, vijaya dhwaj etc. The belief that courage to use force is an important element of a monarch’s personality forms the core of Modi’s political and intellectual thought. His mindset in monarchic, he equates his authoritarian style with the dictatorial authority exercised by the patriarch of a large family.