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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Confusion Now Hath Made His Masterpiece

We can only hope that the inept handling of the Pathankot terror attack is the worst breach of national security and dignity that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP can inflict on the nation. However, the progressive scale of ineptitude that has been on display doesn’t give much hope.

For too long, it was not clear if all the terrorists had been taken out. Indian Express reported there was a blast even while defense minister Parrikar arrived at the base. Before that:

  • The finance minister got into the act saying the siege was over; his statement was followed by reports of more gunfire.
  • The home minister put out a tweet announcing the end of the attack and then deleted it.
  • The prime minister was purveying wisdom on yoga and Hinduism.
  • The defense minister was in Goa, meddling in its seaside politics.

Maybe the terrorists died laughing?

With the BJP, garish spectacle triumphs over quiet diplomacy. In February 1999, Atal Behari Vajpayee took a bus to Lahore with the famous Bollywood actor Dev Anand in tow and signed the Lahore Declaration. In May that year, India faced the Kargil war. With Modi, the Pathankot terror attack came just a few days after his PR stopover in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media appeared clueless. It reported every leak from the multiple agencies in charge, sowing confusion all around.Television news, now bigger and better than in 1999, simply passed off everything as breaking news. The more “intrepid,”not wanting to dig and delve into the hard story, went after the human angle: interviewing grieving relatives of the soldiers who were killed, calling them “bravehearts” like medieval Scots and “martyrs” like Islamic fundamentalists.

The newspapers were no better: they simply bought whatever line the government put out and played up the sentimental angle of sacrifice for the nation. They could not or would not distinguish between reports on the ground from the disinformation being put out by government sources.

In the event, the social media, some uncompromising publications like The Hindu and The Telegraph and a number of hardnosed commentators nailed the truth. Many questioned the national security adviser’s decision to deploy the Defense Security Corps comprised of retired soldiers to assist the National Security Guard at Pathankot. There was widespread derision of Mr Modi’s preoccupation with yoga and Hindu temples.

Mr Modi and his party have failed every test or serious governance so far. Remember: climate doesn’t change, people grow older.  Or Ganesha’s elephant head is proof there were plastic surgeons in those ancient days. Or India can never abuse nature:earth is our mother; moon is our “mama” (mother’s brother), echoing a popular Bollywood song of the 1950s.

This government is also demonstrably incompetent. Never mind Pathankot, even in Parliament, where it commands a majority in the lower house, Mr Modi has been unable to get anything done.Plus he suffered significant political defeats in Delhi and Bihar.Now there’s virtually no hope the BJP can win a majority in the upper house through 2019. As such, the first-ever majority government since the 1980s finds itself stymied.

Mr Modi’sbelligerence swayed many away from their normal predilections to vote for him in 2014; hence the majority. Cocky in victory, he denied Leader of Opposition status to Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress. As such, his no-holds-barred approach permitted no negotiation and compromise with the opposition, a sine qua non in a democracy.

In just 18 months, he has shown he is simply not prime ministerial material. Never mind his obvious shortcomings, including gaffes about the flag in Japan and the national anthem in Russia, his cabinet is a distressingly low on intellect and ethics.

The much-admired campaign in 2014 beguiled the electorate: there was dog-whistle rhetoric about Hindutva; a slanderous paid media campaign against a government that delivered a decade of unprecedented prosperity and social welfare; a quixotic promise of a golden age. 

There’s one more thing in play: during the 2008 Bombay terror attack, Mr Modi, then Gujarat chief minister, showed up outside the Oberoi Hotel to castigate the government as soft and directionless. This was while security forces were still battling the terrorists.  In stark contrast, there has been no dissenting opposition voice in the matter of Pathankot.

Mr Modi’s future suddenly seems to be limited. The narrative of good governance is shown up as“a tale told by idiots, who strut and fret their hour upon the stage, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” 

(An edited version of this post will appear in DailyO.in, January 2016.)

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