Remember the terrorizing incident of February, 2019 in Balakot, Pakistan? Something sinister happened, transforming itself into an international shocker, and shaking our world....almost drawing India and Pakistan, to the brink of a nuclear disaster?
It certainly was not the event itself, that captivated me. Ironically so, it was the 'lofty wisdom', behind that action, that was being advanced through India's high offices and a noisy, noisy, news media.
India today, is passing through its crucial and sensitive phase of its transformation, ushering into its giant leap forward. Perhaps, this is India's moment in history- to which the gods had predicted-that the nation would take off, to fulfill its pre-destined role of global leadership!
Coming back to the real world minus the fantasies, India's acquired position had been ominous, therefore needed to be explicitly repudiated. To the best of my knowledge, this had left much to be desired.
It may be recalled- this characteristic, Indian narrative was advanced at that time, because, contrary to the claims of the government, oft-repeated, by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders-that the IAF surgical strikes' had destroyed the terrorist camps around Balakot and killed nearly 300 terrorists. Much to dismay of global media, evidence collected on the ground had actually revealed very little damage that was inflicted on the 'enemy' territory of Pakistan!
In the consequent hue and cry, after this was highlighted by Opposition leaders-the government accused them of disbelieving the armed forces and ipso facto, committing an anti-national act.
Another item of remarkable value, in the entire story however, had been the fact that this level of 'wisdom' was never challenged by the Opposition parties. The government's defense was 'restricted' to information about the number of terrorists killed. The toll of casualties was never furnished by the armed forces branches.
On the contrary, these details were provided by a civilian bureaucrat, along with BJP leadership-which had jointly briefed the press, in their effort to extract political mileage.
Again, the very concept of harboring doubts in the words of the armed forces, has become an 'anti-national', anti-state act, because India, regardless, must adhere to respect their armed forces, who risk their lives to defend India's territory and sovereignty!
It is this view that is worrying, not because a common Indian has any lack of respect for India's armed forces or there exists a denial of the fact, that the nation's armed forces are risking their lives in dangerous and difficult conditions. This may also be attributed to an implicit denial of the fact that in this Indian democracy, it is the people who are supreme, and they stand above every particular segment, no matter how noble and great the function be, that they may be carrying out. Every segment in other words, including the armed forces, is accountable to the people, if not directly, then at least indirectly through their representatives.
Consequently, no segment's word can be taken as sacrosanct, no matter how much honour we choose to bestow upon that segment, without verification; for doing so would amount to a betrayal of the people, whose exercise of sovereignty demands that they must be told the truth. In fact, it is this namely, the due 'accordance' of centrality to the sovereignty of the people over every segment including the armed forces, which differentiates India from Pakistan.
The pre-eminent position of the armed forces in Pakistan's social and political life, which has constricted democracy in that country, is captured in a comical script that used to be popular in Lahore and Islamabad, some years ago. It went as follows:
People were travelling in a bus in Pakistan which was extremely crowded. One person turned to his neighbour and asked: 'Sir, are you in the army?' When the neighbour replied in the negative the person asked: 'Is there anyone in your family, who is serving in in the army? After another negative answer, he persisted: 'Is there anyone from your village in the army?'
And when the answer was still no, he yelled: 'Then idiot, take your foot off my toes. I am getting squashed!'
The glorification of the armed forces and their elevation above the people, by asserting that their actions are beyond scrutiny in principle (not having to do with specific security reasons at the time) is a denial of democracy. And when such an assertion is made in the name of 'nationalism', it only underscores how such a concept of 'nationalism' is fundamentally anti-democratic.
Such a militaristic concept of nationalism is actually far-removed from the anti-colonial nationalism upon which the modern Indian 'nation' has been founded with its emphasis on democracy and people's sovereignty. What really is disturbing, however, is the manner in which the latter concept of 'nationalism' is being gradually and surreptitiously substituted, by the former as if the two are similar or identical.
The proposition advanced at the time of the Balakot strikes is a major instance of such substitution, which at the same time is a denigration of the concept of the people's sovereignty.
The BJP of course has been an advocate of such a muscular militaristic nationalism which is fundamentally anti-democratic; but the fact that its concepts can get such easy currency points to a deeper problem, namely a basic disrespect for the 'people' among a significant section of the elite, in India's stratified, caste-based society.
While there is general appreciation for the role of the armed forces fir reasons of the dangers they face in their duties of protecting the 'nation', there is hardly any relative appreciation of the role of the sewage-workers , who equally face dangers or are exposed to this, no less than those of the armed forces-also in the service of the country. And would anyone ever argue that the word of the sewage-workers should never be questioned because of the hazards of their occupation in the service of the 'nation'?.
This example, highlights the case in the point Based on this concept that the word of the armed forces must be accepted and questioning it is 'anti-national'-it is only a step short of saying that the word of the government must be accepted and criticizing it is 'anti-state': both positions treat the people not as subjects within a democratic framework.... but as objects who have to be lulled into quietude for their own good, so that they do not get afflicted by demoralization.
Emphasizing the growing unemployment and poverty in the economy, claiming that the high gross domestic product growth rates mean very little as they camouflage increasing distress within the working population, can this be said to be demoralizing for the 'nation'-and hence, may be deemed as being 'anti-national'.
This is not an idle fancy: such views about the 'demoralizing' effects of criticism were also expressed during the United Progressive Alliance period by persons in high authority. What the BJP has done in treating criticisms of the government as being synonymous with 'sedition' or 'anti-nationalism' is simply to carry this position to its absurd logical limit.
However, this is the limit of a process where there is an inverted perception of the people, not as subjects but as objects, where the people, instead of being treated as sovereign, are treated with paternalistic condescension, who must show due deference to the armed forces 'that are doing so much for them' and to the government that 'is so concerned for their welfare'.
Such an inversion in perception comes fairly easy, in our hierarchical caste-based society that has anyway been fundamentally anti-egalitarian since history. Preventing such an inversion, requires that the people must be told the 'truth'.
Hiding statistics from them, asking them to accept the word of the armed forces with regard to the outcome of military operations, asking them to accept the word of the government about the 'fantastic' things which are supposedly happening to them, are means of effecting such an inversion, of reducing them to the status of objects.
Even if they are told the 'truth' that would not of course automatically make them subjects. But being told the 'truth' is a necessary, although not a sufficient, condition for their subject-hood.
India will continue to learn from the capacities, wisdom and statesmanship of the nation's present and future leaders!
The writer is a former educationist
based in Chicago
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