Valson Thampu

The irony of the Indo-Pak interface as of now is that we are having to pay the price – at least a part of it – for the abortion of democracy in our neighbouring country. The strange thing about the notionally democratic scheme of things there is that only the army knows, or decides, the ‘will of the people!’ The people themselves can’t.

There is a lesson in it, especially for India. That lesson is that democracy cannot be, at the same time, also a defacto theocracy. Our country today is poised precariously between the two stools of ‘secular, democratic republic,’ on the one hand, and ‘Hindu rashtra.’ Consequently, those who resist and criticize the latter agenda are stigmatized and denounced as anti-nationals.

The irony is that Pakistan, more than India, bleeds through the ill-conceived, megalomaniacal thousand-cuts strategy adopted by that country. So, when Imran Khan says that Pakistan too is a victim, we must believe him; though it is too tempting to assume that he is merely dissembling. I would not laugh it off – because I am not a politician – when Imran says to Modi, “Let’s give peace a chance.” I believe that peace is so great a treasure that it is worth taking reasonable risks to attain it, if there is even a glimmer of hope. War-mongers – who, by definition, will always be those least affected by any war – will be quick to denounce Imran’s inclination as devious. They have their interests, not the interest of the country, in their heart.

The entrenched pre-eminence of the army in Pakistan’s national life means only one thing: that country has been militarized. It is only logical that a military society, or national culture, is hospitable to militancy. Unfortunately, Imran, at heart more of a cricketer than a politician, doesn’t seem to read this clearly enough. If he did, he would not need ‘actionable evidence’ to act on terrorist outfits in that country. But Imran is wiser than he knows. The fact is that it is not possible to take a stand against terrorist and their handlers in a country without taking a stand, at the same time, against the militarization of that society.

‘Militarization,’ by the way, is not a matter merely of having a mighty army or of spending disproportionately on defence. Militarism refers to the army being the object of national pride. Everything being made subject and subservient to the army. The army being the ultimate pride of a people. It denotes worshipping physical might as the supreme good of a people. You are assuredly on the way to being militarized if you, for example, refuse to believe blindly on what the army reports and are denounced as ‘anti-national,’ as it happened in the aftermath of the surgical strike in 2016. Historically, false propaganda has been a necessary weapon in the arsenal of the army.

When a cult of violence is promoted and popularized, its articulation necessitates a hate-object either within or without the country. But even when the principal hate-object is situated externally, the internal life of such a country will still be riddled with malevolent fissures; so much so, it is no more than a ‘managed anarchy’. When a country is in such a pickle, what matters most is ‘who’ manages the anarchy. The trick is that ‘anarchy’ is managed in such a way as to perpetuate it. To resolve the anarchy is to cut the branch on which one is sitting. In Pakistan, there is no ambiguity about who manages and perpetuates anarchy. The political dispensation merely survives under the army’s patronage and sufferance.

Nudging the army more and more into the public sphere and media visibility is un-democratic and dangerous. This is not because we do not value the services of our armed forces. We do. All through modern history, countries of diverse kinds – except those under military dictatorships – deemed it desirable to keep the army out of civilian sight. The proximity of the army to potboilers of politics presages the peril of politicizing the army, which is the deadly mistake that Pakistan committed. It is a luxury that we cannot afford.

The Pulwama massacre has brought the Modi administration under unprecedented strain; especially given that the general elections are around the corner. The PM talks tough; it is his duty to do so. He carries the morale of the entire country on his shoulders. But I am, frankly speaking, exasperated by the glib and irresponsible war-mongering that goes on in TV studios. These talking heads have no idea what it means to be on the battlefield. They have not known the unmanning terror in the proximity of death, or the burden of living with lifelong disability. Most TV personages – all of them born ‘experts’ in everything under the sun- talk as though war is just a sterile, exciting TV game! This is irresponsible.

The universal principle is that violence begets violence. The chain or blood-letting cannot be disrupted with greater violence, which only legitimizes and expands it. The chain of violence needs to be broken, all the same. Like in allopathy -as against homeopathy-only the unlike can cure the like, as Emperor Ashoka learned at Kalinga. The worrisome thing is that public rhetoric -which is entwined with image-building- generates its own incremental momentum and could reach a point where it could spin out of control.

For the sake of those whose lives could be endangered through an escalation of hostilities, let’s hope very fervently that the PM would handle this situation with mature statesmanship and enhance our country’s global image in the process. It does us no good to be seen stooping to the level of what is nearly a failed state; at least a failed democracy. Indian democracy needs to function on its own terms, and not allow itself to be distracted, via knee-jerk reactions, to be a mirror image of a woe-begone neighbour who does not have it in her to emerge from the swap of the past and to welcome a new beginning.

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