The politics of consensus around national security is breaking down irrevocably. The ruling party has the primary responsibility of building a broad consensus around national security issues. But the preoccupation of the BJP seems to be to continue to build a myth of invincibility around one individual, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This itself may not further our national interest. There are many myths of superhuman feats surrounding Modi. This has resulted in the BJP diluting its collective identity in favour of building the Modi myth.
Until ten days ago, BJP leaders maintained that the army must get the entire credit for the “surgical strike” across the Line of Control (LoC) and Modi specifically assured that the issue would not be politicised. Within no time, party president Amit Shah made a statement that the “surgical strikes” would be taken to the people at large. Then came a statement from defence minister Manohar Parrikar, giving Modi “a major share of credit for the LoC operations.” Note how cleverly the BJP has shifted the narrative from “all credit to the army” to “major credit to Modi”.
The Modi myth-making is a carefully crafted exercise. The prime minister cannot claim this is happening without his knowledge. And mind you, this is not just about the forthcoming UP elections, which of course is very critical for the BJP. There is also a whisper campaign that Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is not fit to rule a border state like Punjab. The larger idea seems to be to construct a larger than life image for Modi as the only prime minister who can tame the LoC – the greatest “LoC PM”, if you please. In some ways, the opposition parties may be walking into the BJP trap by joining a rapidly coarsening discourse around the LoC and relations with Pakistan.
Both Shah and Parrikar have cleverly been provoking the Congress by asserting that “no such operations have happened in the past along the LoC”. This is aimed at showing the UPA as inept and conversely lionising Modi as the only one to have the spunk to order targeted strikes across the border. The Congress party responded strongly by highlighting well-documented media reports that the UPA had conducted “Operation Ginger” in 2011, in which the Indian army killed and beheaded three Pakistani soldiers in a strike across the LoC. This was in retaliation against a Pakistan attack on an Indian army camp, in which an Indian soldier was beheaded. The Congress wants an acknowledgement for this now, although it was a covert operation then. Is there a race to the bottom happening here?
The Congress spokesperson has accused Parrikar of politicising the issue by not acknowledging the army’s operations under the UPA. The National Security Advisor (NSA) under the UPA, Shivshankar Menon has said the UPA government did not publicise the army strikes, including the beheadings, along the LoC “because they were not aimed at the domestic constituency”.
“Covert operations were not announced to the country because their primary goal was to pacify the LoC and cut down infiltration and ceasefire violations,” Menon said to The Hindu.
What Menon said is very instructive because the goal of the BJP government seems to be exactly the opposite. Everything is to be made public so as to add to the Rambo-like image of Modi. Remember how ham-handedly the NDA had tried to publicise the Indian army’s operations against the insurgents across the Myanmar border. The term “surgical strikes” was used for the first time by the NDA when it conducted a massive operation to target militant camps inside Myanmar with the permission of their government. It was a covert operation for which NSA Ajit Doval had camped in Manipur to monitor the operations.
Again, the NDA could not resist crudely publicising the covert operations, causing a major embarrassment to the Indian army, which denied the operations. Even the Myanmar government was left red-faced as it had given permission only for a covert operation. Make no mistake, the NDA went public only because of Modi’s overweening desire to be projected as India’s Rambo prime minister. It is this deep psychological need of Modi’s that makes him personalise many critical foreign policy initiatives that have a bearing on national security. Resolution of tricky national security/foreign policy matters cannot be treated like a one-man show.
The problem is the moment you personalise the approach to critical national security issues you simultaneously politicise it, as is being done by Parrikar, who wants to give much credit to Modi for an operation that has “never happened before”. Some of the symbolisms Parrikar and other BJP leaders have used – army as Hanuman and Modi as Rama – also detract from solving the real issues that confront India and Pakistan. The prime minister had specifically promised opposition leaders that he would not play politics with the highly sensitive and inter-linked questions of Pakistan and Kashmir. Alas, what is happening on the ground is exactly the opposite. The worsening discourse on India-Pakistan relations has willy-nilly put Kashmir on the backburner and for the hapless Kashmiris this has only added insult to injury. The more the LoC remains on the boil, Modi will keep his domestic constituency happy and intact. This could go on until 2019, with more exotic versions of the surgical strike, which itself may evolve into new art forms! Modi is increasingly looking like a petty politician rather than the statesman that he promises to be from time to time.