We are being bombarded with endlessly repetitive jingoism about the ‘intrusion’ of terrorists, allegedly supported by the Pakistan army, who crossed into India, and, after many days of intense military ‘operations’, were claimed to be flushed out by the Indian army. We lost some jawans in the encounter and others were severly injured. Retired army generals, strategic and military experts have been on television telling us how not to do it and more, but there has been no official statement from the prime minister or the defence minister to calm down the people and prove that they are in control. Citizens need to be addressed by the top leadership to feel secure. And to send an unwavering, clear message across the border is essential. That is leadership.
Instead, what comes across the footlights is a non-committal, confused State, hoping that ‘this too shall pass’. When a prime minister shuns engagement with the people and never uses Doordarshan to clear the air and mis-representations, particularly at times such as these, he allows dangerous speculation and half-truths to dominate the imagination. It is detrimental to peace. This arrogant ‘silence’ insults the citizens of a democracy and creates a mood that is anti-government. The other, even more disturbing outcome of this lack of immediate connect, is the all-pervading perception in India that the government is weak, that ours is a soft State, and therefore, our militant neighbours keep checking out how porous the line of control really is, and how far they can go till India is pushed to act or to even speak out.
If we believe, as a nation, that dialogue is the only way forward, then did the prime minister not pick up the phone to send shivers down the line to Nawaz Sharif? Where is straight-talking? And if there has been some, why is the nation out of the loop? India is a democracy, not a dictatorial, feudal regime. Why reject the sensibilities of the citizens? Why have bilateral interventions, strong and clear-cut, not kicked in? Why is the government so slow and confused? All this ‘silence’ regarding how to respond and react is scary for a majority of Indians who are beginning to feel that they want someone in charge, confident and talking to them.
It is this gross failure that has propelled Narendra Modi onto the national stage. In the southern states, where the Bharatiya Janata Party does not have a huge and committed following, he is creating a real buzz. His counterpoint in the political game, at the moment, is a silent, non-speaking, disconnected, seen as weak, and ageing leader, who refuses to pass on the baton by stepping down before the forthcoming national polls, if only to send out the signal that change could be on the anvil and an alternative to the aggressive pitch by Modi and the BJP for the gaddi at the Centre could be countered by the Congress.
If the Congress is demolished at the hustings 10 years after Sonia Gandhi resurrected it from a similar condition at the start of this millennium, the blame can only be placed at the feet of the incumbent government. The victory in 2009 was because of welfare schemes and not because of the nuclear deal. Sonia Gandhi led that victory, not the prime minister. Economic restructuring has been done in fits and starts, laws and operating manuals were not re-written, corruption was permitted to rear its head, babus were allowed to run amok, and ‘welfare’ was attacked by the lobbies that ruled the corridors of policy-making. No creative parallel initiatives were generated for the rich and the poor. No one had the intellectual wherewithal to craft an Indian blueprint for growth. Economic restructuring failed because it was exclusive, non-creative and un-Indian, ignoring the poor.