Pulwama & unfolding story lines
Ambush, retaliation, buoyancy to a reluctant pause—the latest India-Pak bump could polarise the country’s polity to the BJP’s advantage
One has no way of knowing how the Varthamans of Chennai looked at the spectacles of flag waving that were on display after their son, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman , returned on being freed from Pakistan’s captivity. The family is extraordinarily understated. From day one, when the news of the wing commander’s landing after ejecting from his fighter jet in Pakistan broke, his parents took immense care to keep themselves away from the media that had amassed outside their residence. But for a belated recognition and salutation of Air Marshal (retired) Simhakutty and his wife, Dr Shobha, on board a Chennai-Delhi flight, they avoided the spotlight.
On March 1, when Abhinandan landed at the Palam airport and his parents waited to receive him, television media had congregated to capture the reunion. Antsy anchors harangued the reporters on call for visuals but drew ablank because the shaded windows of the air force cars that ferried the family whizzed past with nary a glimpse of the wing commander and his folks.
Abhinandan’s mother was a doctor with Medicine Sans Frontiers and served as an anaesthesiologist in conflict-ridden countries the world over. His sister, Adithi, is a post-doctoral researcher in cancer at Paris’s Centre de Recherche des Cordeliers. A social media habitué ostensibly traced Adithi on the net and penned a poem for Abhinandan called “My Brother with a Bloodied Nose” that was attributed to her until the writer revealed himself as Varun Ram Iyer. The poem was a pardonable sideshow. Of graver concern is Abhinandan’s politicisation by the BJP.
He doubtless deserved the nation’s collective applause for the trauma he was subjected to in Pakistan and his remarkable forbearance, but what is to be made of the attempts to quarry the courage of an IAF pilot for votes? Barely had Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that Abhinandan would be returned as a “gesture of peace” than Narendra Modi declared at ascience and technology ministry function that, “Just now one pilot project has been completed. Now we have to make it real, earlier it was just practice.” If Khan’s phrase sounded hollow because there’s no let-up in cross-border skirmishes and killings,Modi’s pun was traduced as tasteless and the sentence that followed as menacing. What did the words “real” and “practice” signify?
The day Abhinandan was back, Modi conjugated his heroism with the nation’s horsepower as though India had just won a war. What was the strength sourced to? “Abhinandan used to mean congratulations in English. And now the meaning of Abhinandan will change. This is the strength of this country,” the PM said at a housing ministry function. BJP president Amit Shah equated Abhinandan’s “bravery and valour” with Modi’s diplomatic skills. “Pakistan bowed down before the diplomatic pressure put by the leadership of PM Narendra Modi and ordered his release within 24 hours,” Shah said.
The problem is if the current circle of events is showcased as a “triumph” of Indian diplomacy, “successful kutniti” (diplomacy) by itself is hard to sell in the welter of emotions triggered by Pulwana and Balakot. Here, the Modi cannot be accused of propaganda excesses because Pakistan had painted itself into a corner, first when ally China was equivocal and then refused to condemn India’s retribution and later when the Saudi Crown Prince discreetly intervened to effect a truce. Pakistan’s foreign minister churlishly boycotted Sushma Swaraj’s speech at the OIC to which India was invited for the first time. Eventually the OIC balanced its stance, lauded Imran Khan’s “gesture of goodwill to de-escalate tension” and condemned the “atrocities” and “human right violations” in Kashmir. These are talking points in chat shows but how will they click in an “adda” over “chaat” and “chai”?
By fusing diplomacy with Modi’s personality. He took the lead at this in a Patna public meeting on Sunday. The PM said thanks to his interventions during the Saudi crown prince’s visit to Delhi, the Haj quota from India was raised to 2 lakh and the Saudi government decided to free 850 Indians who languished in jails allegedly for minor offences. The BJP will not squander away an occasion to reinforce its case. On Friday, at the launch of a book on the RSS, central minister Smriti Irani said, “Sangh today can be proud of the fact that a son of India is returning to the country in 48 hours because of the ‘parakram’ (pluck) of a ‘swayamsevak’.” Modi started his political life as an RSS volunteer.
Legitimately or otherwise, questions, especially by the western media, have been raised on a host of issues, ranging from the intelligence failure in Pulwama to the number of casualties claimed by the Balakot bombing and Washington’s purported role in securing Abhinandan’s release to work towards a detente. If Islamabad will be on test to keep its word on disassembling the terrorist apparatuses, the BJP will be watched for the rhetoric unleashed from the stump and the combustible quotient.
Modi and Shah have an election staring at them. Modi is reported to have told his party colleagues that while the government’s record, its social schemes and caste jugglery formed the support frames of the BJP’s campaign, it will ultimately run on “emotions”. The questions being asked of Pulwana and thereafter buttress the “victimhood” storyline, of an elitist media getting at a tea-seller from the country’s backwater. Modi loves nothing more than a battle framed as “us” versus “them” and he has one ready on his hands.
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source: Mumbai Mirror