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Border Brawl

Border Brawl

The response of the BJP government at the Centre to the killing of 20 Indian soldiers by the Chinese troops in the Galwan valley on 15th June was entirely different from the response to the terrorist attack on 40 Indian soldiers in Pulwama more than a year ago.   On February 14, 2019, a  terror attack was carried out in  Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir by a suicide bomber resulting in the death of 40 CRPF personnel.

A day after the Pulwama massacre the bodies of the CRPF jawans were brought to Delhi on an air force plane. The political leaders of all parties paid homage to the dead jawans. PM Modi was the first to pay homage to the slain jawans. The whole programme was televised by all TV channels along with anti-Pakistan rhetoric by many ruling party leaders. Television images showed PM Modi, hands folded and head bowed, walk around 40 Tricolour-draped coffins as he led the nation in paying its last respects to the dead.

No such gesture was done for the soldiers who died in a violent skirmish in the Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh. It took more than 36 hours for the defence minister, Rajnath Singh to break his silence about the tragic death of the soldiers. First it was announced that only three army personnel, a colonel and two soldiers, were killed; later it was confirmed by the Indian army that the number of soldiers killed was 20. Similarly, the Indian side had claimed that none of its soldiers was in the captivity of the Chinese troops, but a day later came the announcement that 10 Indian soldiers were released by the Chinese side.   No information was made available about these ten soldiers, their names, ranks etc. Compare this incident with fanfare with which wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman was handed over to  Indian officials near a border crossing with  Pakistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “Wing commander Abhinandan, the nation is proud of your exemplary courage. Our armed forces are an inspiration for 130 core Indians”.   

The response of the defence minister and of the prime minister was measured and subdued. The defence minister described the death of the soldiers as “deeply disturbing and painful”. The prime minister kept mum till 17th June when addressed the chief ministers via video conference. After asking the chief ministers to observe two minutes’ silence in the slain soldiers’ honour he told them, “India wants peace, but if provoked India will provide an appropriate response. Whenever we had differences, we tried that differences do not become disputes. We never provoked anyone, but we don’t compromise with the integrity and sovereignty of our country. I want assure the nation that the sacrifices of our soldiers will not go waste”. As media reports indicate talks between the two countries at the diplomatic and military levels are going on for de-escalation of tensions on the border.

Compare this response of top BJP leaders to the aggressive response to Pulwama killing. Prime Minister Modi said that “those responsible will pay a heavy price” and India will give “befitting reply” ( Muhtod jawab). “ I want to tell the terror outfits and those aiding and abetting them that they have made a big mistake. They will have to pay a very heavy price for their actions. Let me assure the nation that those behind this attack, the perpetrators of this attack will be punished,” he said. India retaliated by conducting an aerial strike at a terror training centre in Balakot of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on February 26, within two weeks of Phulwama attack.

After the killing 20 soldiers in Galwan valley there has been no talk of retaliation or military action. On the contrary the Indian government has chosen the diplomatic route instead of military action. It is to be appreciated that the government has resorted to dialogue instead of a military confrontation that can be catastrophic to both India and China. At the same time, people naturally ask the question why there is a glaring difference between the two responses by the same BJP government. Political analysts give three reasons.

First of all, China is far more militarily and economically powerful than India and hence before going for a war, even a limited war, with China India has to think several times. With $3 trillion GDP India is nowhere near China that has a GDP of $14 trillion.  

The second reason is that Pulwama killing took place before a general election to the Lok Sabha and BJP wanted to make maximum political capital out of the tragic incident. The BJP appropriated the credit for cross border action by the military. Modi had asked first-time voters to dedicate their ballots to the soldiers who carried out the Balakot air strikes. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath had referred to the armed forces as “ Modi ji ki sena”.

Thirdly, Pulwama bomb blast was used as a convenient tool by the BJP to brand the terrorist attack as an act of Pakistan sponsored Islamic terrorism and thereby target the Indian Muslims. The main strategy used by the BJP to polarize the Hindu votes has been presenting Muslims as terrorists and Christians as agents of conversion. Thus the Pulwama killing was used by the BJP to further its ideology of exclusive Hindutva.

The opposition parties, especially the Congress, have questioned the Modi government for its failure to prevent the intrusion by the Chinese troops to Indian Territory and not being transparent to the nation about the developments on the India-China border. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement at the video conference with the top leaders of all political parties became very controversial.  “Neither have they intruded into our border, nor has any post been taken over by them (China). Twenty of our jawans were martyred, but those who dared Bharat Mata, they were taught a lesson,” said the PM. The Congress party spokespersons presented the statements of army generals and experts and satellite imagery depicting Chinese intrusion into Indian Territory and construction of permanent structures as proof of Chinese intrusion.

The BJP government never accepts its failures. Those who point out its failures are targeted by BJP and its IT cell. Demonetization was not only a failure but also a disaster for the Indian economy; but the BJP never accepted that it was a wrong step. In this case also those who ask questions to the government are branded as anti-nationals and enemies of the armed forces. In a democracy people have the right to ask questions to the government. The role of the opposition parties is to point out the failures and deficiencies of the government from the perspective of national interest and nation building.

During the first term of PM Modi he undertook marathon tours to different countries of the world for building up friendly relations. With 92 trips to 57 countries Modi flew abroad nearly twice as much as his predecessor Manmohan Singh in five years. At the same time his party and government were following a policy of hatred and exclusion within the country instead of fostering harmony among the different sections of the society. The first term of PM Modi was characterised by hate speeches, attack on the minorities and dalits and lynching of innocent people by the cow vigilantes.   The second term started with the implementation divisive policies through legislations, starting with the legislation to criminalize triple talaq, and proceeding to the constitution amendment to abrogate of article 370 and 35 A and to bifurcate the Jammu and Kashmir state into two union territories and finally passing Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) along with the declaration of preparing National Register    of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR). The Delhi communal riot, in which 53 people were killed, was the cumulative effect of these divisive policies and actions.

While the nation was rocked by protests against the trinity of CAA, NRC and NPR, Covid 19 began to spread. The citizens of India thought that the fight against the pandemic will be done by uniting all sections of the people of India. Unfortunately, even during a huge crisis the focus of the BJP was targeting the Muslim community. Negligence of the organizers of a gathering of Tablighi Jamaat at Nizamudin, Delhi was used by the BJP to target the whole Muslim community in India. Many Muslim vegetable and fruit vendors lost their livelihood and some of them were attacked, being accused of spreading the Coronavirus.

A political party that follows a policy of hatred and exclusion for gaining political power and remaining in power cannot build up sustainable friendly relations with its neighbours. Today the neighbours of India- Pakistan, China, Nepal and Bangladesh- are not happy with India. The adventurism of NRC in Assam and passing of CAA have adversely affected the good relationship with Bangla Desh. A Prime Minister who promised sab ka saast sabka vikas has miserably failed to reach out all sections of Indian society. The minorities, particularly the Muslim community, not only feel being excluded but also being targeted and victimized. The CAA, the failure of the government to prevent communal riots in Delhi and filing false cases against those who participated in the non-violent protest against CAA are the explicit signs of discrimination and victimization.

Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the nation has said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. The Prime Minister and the BJP leaders have to listen to the Father of the nation if they want to build a peaceful and prosperous India and remain in peace and harmony with India’s neighbours. The neighbouring countries will have no faith in the leadership of a nation that considers a particular section of its population as enemies. A few specialists in international relations have suggested that in order to counter the growing influence and power of China, India has to strengthen its relationship with USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and the European Union.   There is no doubt that India has to strengthen its relationship with the above mentioned nations, but not definitely at the cost of relationship with its neighbours. Above all the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have to realize that the foundation of any relationship is LOVE and not HATRED.

(jacobpt48@gmail.com)

(Published on 29th June 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 27)