Pulwama and after: When leaders fail nation — By PREM CHANDRAN

Pulwama and after: When leaders fail nation — By PREM CHANDRAN

By PREM CHANDRAN | Feb 19, 2019

NERO played flute when Rome was burning; with disastrous consequences, of course. The numbness and incompetence of India's political leadership – which leads the nation from the front – is most evident when faced with critical situations. It is not capable even of playing flute when faced with fire. Take for instance the scenario that unfolded in Pulwama district in Jammu and Kashmir on Monday. An army major and several jawans were killed in an encounter, in which a joint team of the army, the police and the security forces was targeting three terrorists. This meant more loss of precious lives of our brave soldiers – over and above the over 40 killed and as many maimed in the suicide bomb attack in the same district this past week.

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Question is, faced with a situation of the kind as unfolded since Sunday night, why make more of the soldiers sitting ducks to the fire from a bunch of terrorists holed up there? Instead, why not resort to aerial bombing and turn the entire hideout along with the terrorists into instant ashes? No rule of the game applies when one is dealing with terrorists. Why can't the political leadership – Narendra Modi and Co – act in a more courageous and responsible manner, rather than adopting face-saving measures like withdrawal of the Most Favoured Nation status from Pakistan, or the like? In the past too, in several instances of encounter and cross firings, India lost more soldiers than the terrorists it annihilated in their hideouts. To resort to aerial bombing, one needs the courage to act and go for the kill. Note how China and Russia keeps the scourge of terrorism under control? Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are not leaders with feet of clay.

Understandably, the aim was to catch the terrorists alive; but it rarely ever happened. Confronted, they kill themselves if they are not killed. An exception was of Ajmal Kasab in the Mumbai terror attacks. His capture helped little. Pakistan refused to admit he was its baby. Rather, keeping him alive for four years cost India heavily.

To my mind, Narendra Modi has governed the nation in a reasonably appreciable manner in several respects. But, what is his track record in dealing with Pakistan's machinations and frequent play of mischief? A minor surgical strike is what he and the BJP have gone boasting about?

When Pakistan is bent on playing more mischief, through instruments like Jaish whose links with ISI are all too well-known, look at the way the convoy of CRPF jawans was transported from one place to another. Clearly, private vehicles were allowed to intercept the convoy at will, with no concern for safety for the soldiers in a land where anything could happen any time. There is the intelligence failure as a top former RAW chief Vikram Sood has stated in Hyderabad, stressing that this was not an act of just one suicide bomber. Yet, with the huge money spent on intelligence gathering in the Valley, no hint came as to what was happening. There was lethargy on the part of the officials engaged in the surveillance operations. And, there was failure on the part of the political leadership which oversaw matters from Delhi.

Massod Azhar, the notorious character heading the Jaish-e-Mohammed is roaming around freely in Pakistan under the cover of charity his institutions engage in – also collecting huge funds in that name from the Gulf and other regions; and he's standing for elections, and playing more mischief against India in multiple ways. All these directly under the watch of the political establishment in Pakistan; with direct support from the military intelligence wing, the ISI. Yet, India is game with the Pakistani establishment, and shows no guts to confront Islamabad for its acts of omissions and commissions. This is a strange situation. The Mumbai attacks occurred; India under Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi scurried for cover. Later, the attacks on Pathankot airbase took place, followed by a similar attack on the Uri military establishment. Both happened under Modi's watch. India simply blinked. Pakistan asked for proof, and India scurried around to collect proof. Everybody knew how Pakistan would respond to it. It said this was no proof. In the first place, why did India take the trouble of collecting and giving proof to Pakistan? Did it expect of the enemy nation to take action against the perpetrators –its own military brass and the rogue agencies like Jaish? In doing so, the Modi government was simply buying time, and its actions in this respect were just an eyewash to fool the concerned citizenry.

On the other hand, what impression it spread in Pakistan? With India not taking strong action against Pakistan, Jaish kingpin Masoor Azhar grew his stature from a hero to a demi-god. India by its failure to act accorded Azhar a superhuman status in Pakistan. He's gaining a stature because he keeps having the last laugh. Instead, had Pakistan been made to pay a heavy price for what its operatives did against India from the Pakistani soil, Azhar would have been finished off by the Pakistani establishment itself long ago. India's failure to act is the prime reason why Pakistan gives Azhar a free hand. The more Manmohan Singh vacillated, the more Modi vacillates, India will suffer more.

Under Manmohan Singh and Modi, India took several hits from Pakistan, and India failed to act. Even Modi's 56-inch chest meant nothing for India in the past five years. Even at the last minute, when Modi came up with budget provisions to woo the unorganised labour and small-scale farmers with pension schemes, he did so because he found there was no other way he could win the next parliamentary elections. The assembly poll results in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh jolted him out of his slumber. Now, he's out to create new vote banks. Had he done these within at least the first two years of his rule, his sincerity would not have been questioned. Instead, he carried on with the jaded governance systems left behind by the UPA-Congress and danced around.

Other than implementing a market taxation restructuring system via the GST, Modi failed to change India for the better. This is not to argue that he was a failure; not so, overall. He gave leadership, refused to bent to pressures from the likes of schemers like Chandrababu Naidu or the Thackeray clan, both corrupt to the core. He put them in their places. The strong positions Modi took on several fronts were highly appreciable. But, his failures, like in not facing situations squarely vis-a-vis Pakistan, will remain as a major black mark on his leadership.

No one is asking Modi to declare a war on Pakistan under the evolving circumstances. Question is, what other plan does Modi have to discipline a wayward, rogue neighbour? In the past five years, has he put a Plan B in place, or slept over such matters? An Afghan route is often talked about. One does not know how viable it was, is, or will be. The way to hit Pakistan back, Modi once hinted, was to take the Balochistan route. India apparently could not make much headway there too. For now, Pakistan has all the aces up its sleeves. It has China on its side, it has the Islamic nations — other than, say, Iran — to be counted on for overt or covert support. Saudi Arabia and the entire Gulf patronises Pakistan. And it has the Americans who would talk against it but would not act against it.

India cannot depend on others to solve its problems; it has to show the grit and determination to act in a firm and meaningful manner. Diplomatic push will have little impact. Modi will not escape retribution if he fails to act this time. This is not a call for war, per se. It is time to salvage India's image and reputation. If Modi sits back and sweats it out, it will have an impact on the way people judge him in the Polls 2019. That much is for sure.

Featured image courtesy: Hindustan Times

ABOUT THE WRITER: The writer is a former Editor of Khaleej Times and a campaigner with India Against Corruption. He can be reached premcee@gmail.com

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