Time to shoot the messenger?

“Don’t shoot the messenger” is a cliché often used to decry when someone criticizes the media which is the bearer of bad news, instead of the one who was responsible for it. In the context of what’s been happening in India in the last few days, I am tempted to relieve this cliché of the word ‘Don’t”! We all now know that, media all over the world in general and India in particular is only headed towards abyss! And what we saw in India in the past few days only put a stamp of confirmation on it!

In the wee hours of 26th, India conducted a daring air attack deep inside Pakistan targeting some terror camps on what was touted as a retaliation to the Pulwama attack when over 40 CRPF jawans were killed by a suicide bomber of the Jaish. When we started hearing the news, incidentally first through cryptic tweets from the Pakistani side, journalists of all hue starting dialling up their sources and putting out more details – some true and rest hearsay accounts. In just a few hours, mainstream media and social media were engulfed with a tsunami of nationalistic pride over the attack, even when the Government or the forces never came out with the details in public. #Indiastrikesback, #Surgicalstrike2 and other hashtags started trending on social media and not to mention of the myriad memes taking pot shot on Pakistan!

There was a visible difference on the Indian response to Pak terror attack this time. Unlike in the past (particularly in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks) when India played the “responsible” card, this time the “Mirage” was for real (pun intended). Notwithstanding the valour and the efficiency of the armed forces in carrying out this attack, make no mistake, it was possible only because there was a go ahead for such a daring action from the political leadership of the day.  Unfortunately, in these days of a divided polity, opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and the like chose to be petulance personified as seen from their tweets! They all congratulated the IAF and chose to remain silent on the intention of the Govt. forgetting the fact that in situations like these, if there is no political will, there is no way! I am not sure, if BJP was in opposition under the same circumstances, they would have acted differently. Be that as it may, given that this is election season in India, the way media and some of the star anchors and journalists handled this was baffling.  In some of the channels, it was nothing but war mongering. War sets and props, anchors in army fatigues, prime time was unambiguously playing to the gallery. The pro-Govt. journalists had a field day frothing on TV, spitting venom on their social media handles without any responsibility.

The next day i.e. on 27th Feb, Pakistan now chose to retaliate just as their Prime Minister Imran Khan had warned. For many hours, it was not clear what exactly happened as the news trickled in bits and pieces. But soon it emerged that while we were able to put down one Pakistani F16, one of our pilots unfortunately ended up in Pakistan’s custody. Just as news of this emerged, the whole commentary in the media changed. The liberal commentariat which was cooling its heels the previous day came out with their daggers open, now blasting the Indian Govt. for war mongering and sacrificing its brave men with its mindless actions. As #SayNotoWar started trending, our country’s soft underbelly got exposed once again. During the Kandahar hijack, the same thing happened. And further when Imran Khan made a peace dove like statement in their Parliament that they were freeing our officer the next day, the exposure was complete, in my opinion.

From purely Optics point of view, there is no doubt that Imran Khan made most of the situation. While it was well known that they had no choice but freeing a POW, by doing that swiftly, Imran Khan won the perception battle. But to designate and celebrate him as an apostle of peace, just how some of the media personalities were doing on Thursday, was gross injustice to the 40+ jawans who lost their lives just few days back! Back then, the same Imran Khan did not have the courtesy to either condemn or regret the dastardly attack and just mouthed the same “show proof” rhetoric! Now this time it was the turn of the media which is against the BJP/Modi to pursue their agenda and were having their field day!

Neutrality in journalism is now passé. In addition to this agenda driven journalism which now we have learnt to live with, the behaviour of the politicians from both sides was equally regressive and repulsive.  While the ruling party taking this issue to the polls is not avoidable and partially understandable, counting the seat chicken before the border tension hatches as some BJP politicians were doing is highly condemnble.

So in India, we swing from one extreme to another so easily.  From one day shouting from the rooftop of “using our right to attack” in the verge of a terrorist attack to pushing for de-escalation and pull back the moment one of our officers get caught the next day, we proved that we are indeed a country of weak hearts.

Amidst all this, if we have to take lesson on response to these kind of situations, it must be from our defence forces. The same day evening when Imran announced that our officer Abhinandan would be returned to India, there was a presser by the armed forces team which I thought was brilliant, thoroughly professional and to the point. Even when prodded to respond to the so called “good will gesture” of Pakistan in returning our officer, Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor stuck to the fact that it was just an “act” which any country was supposed to do and that the IAF was happy to have the officer back. Period. And the whole presser had lessons for journalists and social media warriors on reporting facts, not giving own interpretations and not getting into matters which was not their domain. It is now part of folklore on how the officer Abhinandan behaved under custody. The training and upbringing certainly showed!

The big difference in the media today in situations like these is the arrival of the monster called Social media. Social media not just gives a platform to all of us to express ourselves, it also becomes a platform for professional journalists to display their loyalties and show where their heart lies. It is indeed great to note that our Govt. didn’t buy into the canard of those putting out their own opinions based on their loyalties this way or that way and stuck to their actions in this situation.

As Social media commentary feeds off into main stream media and vice versa and with government functionaries actively present in the social media these days, one gets concerned if governance becomes a prisoner of media’s whims and fancies. And if that begins to happen, time to “Shoot the messenger, folks!

Cartoon courtesy: Amul

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Kashmir – When History & Geography conflict!

While in school, I liked History as a subject. “King Ashoka planted trees and built lakes! Akbar founded and practiced his own religion – Din Illahi! And so on.  All these were interesting! But those days, my common refrain was, “What is the utility of us studying all these and remembering the years, the place and all that now? How is this going to help me in my life in the future?” While that was History, Geography was perennially boring. Remembering the names of countries, rivers, forests, mountains, cities, their latitudes and longitudes was all a torture. Little did I realise then, that the legacy of history has a long shadow on geography. Hence it becomes mandatory as students to get the perspectives right on History and Geography.  World over, eventually Geo-political conflicts are all about history!  Kashmir is no different.

Right since Independence, Kashmir has been a complex problem. Any proposal/s for solving this always come with insistence of it being a complex problem due to mistakes made by India in the past as per commentators. For many decades, the feeling in our country has been to maintain a status quo on Kashmir. In the wake of the last week’s dastardly attack in Pulwama on our security forces, it is clear that status quo is not the answer.

There are always different schools of thought around solutions ranging from military solution to political solution to diplomatic solution to combination of some of these or all. And frankly most of these have been tried in the past by different Governments of different parties when they got an opportunity to govern India. From Indira Gandhi to Rajiv to Narasimha Rao to Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh to now Narendra Modi, it is not for want of trying, this issue is not resolved. All have attempted in the past to crack the Kashmir code with sometimes the same or slightly different approaches. In my view, by and large all approaches have followed a contour that of keeping it within the constitution, respecting the sense of history and carrying that baggage. And the result of these efforts is there to see.

72 years since Independence means, 3 generations have rolled over, assuming a generation is defined by 25 years. This generation and the coming ones have no love lost for history or for historical narratives over Kashmir. They are concerned about the present and what the future entails. Hence to move forward on a long-lasting solution for Kashmir, the approach must entail shedding any historical baggage and looking into the future. What does this mean?

  • Jammu and Kashmir must be treated just like any other state of India. No special status whatsoever.
  • Scrap Article 370.
  • No Autonomous powers
  • Any law passed in the Parliament of India by default must be applicable to Jammu & Kashmir as well.
  • No Special constitution for Jammu & Kashmir
  • Allow business to be set up by non-Kashmiris in J&K just like in other parts of India.
  • Scrap Article 35A

And so on.

While I understand that it is not as simplistic as it sounds, we need to move in this direction and take firm steps.

Of course all this can work only under peaceful circumstances. There will be a huge uproar in the valley.  In the near term, the Government has to engage in multiple fronts in an effort to bring peace. That includes

Diplomacy – This Government has done a great job in working with relevant countries to isolate Pakistan. Continue the efforts to get more and more countries on board to tighten the noose.

Political – Within the country, take the main opposition parties on board on an agreed broad strategy. Get all parties to talk in the same wavelength not just in the aftermath of a Pulwama type attack but all the time. This will give a signal of India being one on this issue.  In the same token, do not rush to take credit as a party but give credit to all the parties in case of any successes.

Military – The 2016 Surgical strike was a great step. But it has not deterred Pakistan from carrying out the proxy war and stopping the activities of outfits like Jaish. One surgical strike in 2 years seemingly is not enough. We need to raise the cost for Pakistan by carrying our strikes in unpredictable frequency.

In the context of military intervention, we always encounter two refrains. One – that it can escalate into a fully blown war. Two – that a war between two nuclear capable countries is not at all desirable.  My point is, we have always been concerned of any military invention escalating into a fully blown war though Pakistan doesn’t seem to be concerned of the same while provoking us. For a change, why not make them feel concerned about a military escalation. Today, Pakistan is a failed and beleaguered state. Its economy is extremely frail. A fully blown war would only expose its vulnerability further. Except for China, which could come to its support militarily, Pakistan’s isolation is complete. Even for China, an economy which is stuttering today, ignoring India’s interests and siding with Pakistan will be a short term stupidity. So, eventually just like during the Kargil war, there will be more pressure mounted on Pakistan to mend its ways and take visible steps to stop cross border terrorism and take actions on outfits the same.

Economy – Raising the costs for Pakistan economically must be a continuous effort. Getting friendly countries to stop financial aid, labelling Pakistan a terrorist state, getting international sanctions imposed are all options on the table.

While these are ongoing efforts and I am sure Government must be engaged in all of this, the way to long lasting solution is to keep history aside and move forward. We hear that Narendra Modi has a penchant for leaving a lasting legacy. Solving the Kashmir problem could be his gateway to that. And for that History must give way to Geography, Economics and probably Chemistry! It’s time.