Raising questions is the privilege a democracy offers to its citizens: The promise of free speech, not an anti-national activity, certainly (in this case) not disrespectful to our jawans who put their lives at risk at every moment of their lives, not just during surgical strikes. Every citizen of India has an absolute right to ask questions to the elected government, and guess what, even the unpleasant ones. That’s what differentiates this country from a fake republic in our neighborhood where the government works by remote control.
Let’s get one thing clear. By making a big controversy out of such questions on an issue of national interest, we are making ourselves an object of ridicule and thus, belittling a brave act by our jawans. That is precisely what Union minister Uma Bharti did when she said in Pune that politicians who “doubt the army’s surgical strike should take Pakistani citizenship”.
“Those leaders who say that if Pakistan is demanding evidence about the surgical strike, they should be given the evidence; such people should take the citizenship of Pakistan,” Bharti told reporters in Pune.
Now, this isn’t the way to silence critics and questioners. The world is watching how the largest democracy in the world deals with criticism. We don’t want to send signal that we do so by awarding Pakistan citizenship to the questioners. There are two facts worth mentioning here that tells us why the Narendra Modi government needs to respond to questions on the surgical strikes.
First, that this wasn’t the first instance of across-the-LoC surgical attacks is something security experts have said on multiple platforms. Even during the time of the UPA government, there were cross-border raids. Former Congress minister P Chidambaram has gone on record as saying that the army had conducted major surgical strikes across the LoC in 2013. It’s just that those operations were not announced to the world by the then government. The army was always vigilant and always did its job, whether or not its actions were publicised.
Second, no one can deny that for the Modi government, the recent surgical strike has been a major face-saver, after the Uri attack. Emotions were riding high and every Indian craved Pakistani blood — war or otherwise. Modi had good political reasons to walk the talk and show the world that the glory of his 56-inch chest isn’t a myth. If he failed to act, the inaction would have backfired badly. War isn’t an option for either India or Pakistan; the government knew this well. The alternative, besides the diplomatic efforts, was to conduct an army strike in selective areas without escalating tensions beyond a point. This was particularly important ahead of the crucial state elections next year, and to justify his merit and present himself as the nation’s best political choice in the 2019 General Elections, which aren’t far.
Note that the announcement of the surgical strikes was done by the DGMO, not the defence minister. This was designed to give credibility to the entire exercise by letting the army say it in its own words. But that doesn’t mean the government isn’t answerable to the counter-questions on this subject. The simple reason is the obvious political gain for Modi and his government. This is evident from the way the BJP used this army operation to score a political point.
The jawan who risked his life in the darkness of 29 September doesn’t expect any congratulatory words or rewards. He does his duty silently and doesn’t need to explain this to anyone. The onus, obviously, lies with the elected government to answer the questions.
Nirupam and Kejriwal asked for proof of the action. Whether this question — doubting an army operation — is warranted or not is a matter of larger debate.
The question that should be asked is not whether the surgical attacks took place, but whether the attacks were over-hyped by the Modi government for political reasons. Whether or not this was the first-of-its-kind is a different issue. The narrative is what should be scrutinised. But the larger point here is how the government has dealt with the unpleasant questions.
In a multipolar political set up, political parties that are not in power are relevant only because they can question the ruling party’s actions on behalf of the people. The questions can be unpleasant and tough. If we start branding Kejriwal and Nirupam, or for that matter anyone, ‘anti-national’ for questioning the actual nature of surgical strikes, we are certainly not acting in the right spirit of democracy. The very idea that patriotism is a patented privilege only for those who toe the government line is flawed, if not alarming for a country that boasts the virtues of its democratic setup.
The Modi government should deal with such questions with maturity and a sense of responsibility (to the extent national security permits), instead of letting its ministers award Pakistani citizenship to questioners using the measure of patriotism. Creating an unnecessary controversy, we are making us and our army an object of ridicule. The Pakistani government and the anti-India elements (the real enemies of the State) they nurture, will be having a lot of fun watching the government suppressing questions with contempt, because that’s what they do in their country.
If we don’t behave as a democracy in its true spirit, we are no different than them.