I am not a defence expert or an army man. I am a common man, who is shocked, frustrated and feeling helpless after the Pulwama attack just like the rest of India. Charred bodies of CRPF jawans and the grief of their families give me sleepless nights. However, the aftermath of the tragedy intensifies the quagmire we are already in.
We talk about how the only counter to terrorism is unity, but we are far from united. On the contrary, we are busy polarising the society.
Media is at the forefront of all of this. Every newsroom is converted into a war room. ‘Revenge’ is the word around which the discourse revolves, only to confirm the “sabak sikhao” (teach them a lesson) gang has learnt nothing from the Mumbai 26/11, Pathankot or Uri terror attacks. Semi-informed anchors, brimming with bombastic nationalism even have the audacity to advice the Army, reducing TV to a cruel joke. They justify it, say they are echoing the sentiment of the common people. But the fact of the matter is they do it for TRPs (television rating points). What the channels are thriving on is actually voyeurism disguised as nationalism.
I headed a TV channel for seven years. Times like these are meant to pacify emotions that are naturally running high. This is a responsibility we have toward the profession and society. Instead, “studio jawans” are busy exploiting the emotions of people and egging them on, forgetting what the conflict has done to our security personnel. If the look on the faces of the families who lost their loved ones in Pulwama does not deter them from spreading hate, probably nothing will.
The incessant war-mongering of TV channels is not only sickening, but has far-reaching consequences. Hyper-nationalist mobs, wanting to blow off steam, pick the wrong target. In Jammu, protests by Hindutva outfits against the Pulwama attack turned violent. Kashmiri students living in a Dehradun hostel were threatened by an angry mob. What is worse is the hostel administration, instead of protecting them, asked them to leave. Rajasthan, Bihar and Punjab have witnessed such bigotry as well. Is this a united India? This is the precise reaction that helps terrorists, who want to divide and destabilise this country.
The silver lining, however, is that the Opposition parties have not attempted to milk the tragedy, like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Narendra Modi did when Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister. Even the top BJP leaders today are relatively restrained. Congress President Rahul Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh announced the Opposition’s unequivocal support to the government and the Army during this sensitive time. Rahul Gandhi sternly refused to answer political questions. He has handled the situation with maturity by not trying to score political brownie points.
But the approach of the Prime Minister and the BJP parivar is mystifying. He has decided to continue with his official programmes, perhaps to send a message to the terrorists but the smiling photo-ops could have been avoided. That, too, could have been be ignored, but what does one make of the fake news peddlers that are busy exploiting the tragedy to tarnish Opposition leaders. Morphed pictures of Opposition leaders with terrorists have been made viral, and the ones sharing them are vocal supporters of Narendra Modi. An anonymous election campaign on social media, asking people to vote for the government that can execute surgical strikes is already in motion.
This is particularly surprising because a report in the Indian Express says the BJP has asked its leaders to tread cautiously, to share the sorrow of the grieving families of the dead jawans and desist from war-mongering. But the reality suggests that this is mere lip service. And the history and habits of the Sangh Parivar confirms this. The situation would only lead to more parties using the Pulwama attack ahead of the elections to score political points, eventually adding to the existing poison.
As a democratic society, we need to strike a difficult balance. We must do our duty by exercising our fundamental right by asking the correct questions. The Governor of Jammu and Kashmir has admitted to an intelligence failure. This attack reiterates the failure of the Modi government’s Kashmir policy. As per an IndiaSpend report, terrorist incidents in J&K increased from 222 to 614 over four years. In other words, 838 terrorists were killed over the last five years, a 134% increase from 2014. This exposes the limitations of military measures once again.
Unless we win the hearts of Kashmiri people and open an honest dialogue with them, we cannot win the war against terrorism. While we continue to devise strategies to deal with Pakistan, we must understand that it is a rogue state that would largely be superficial in its promises of curbing terror. But we can change things that are in our control.
The suicide bomber used in the Pulwama attack was not a Pakistani. He was an Indian youngster, disgusted with police or Army harassment. This young man, Adil Ahmed Dar, participated in a protest after Hizbul commander Burhan Wani’s killing and was shot in the leg. We need to ask why a section of young Kashmiris is turning to militancy. We cannot defeat terrorism with abuse, threats or another kind of terrorism against our own. Until we realise that, we would only go in circles, and I would end up writing a similar column after another attack.