It was reported in our media after a press briefing by Army chief General Bikram Singh on Monday that intruding Pakistani troops had carried out two beheadings of Indian soldiers even in 2011. For reasons unclear, neither the Government of India, nor the opposition nor the media chose to publicise this incident. It was kept a well-guarded secret. There was no public outrage and this incident did not impact the ongoing dialogue between the two countries.
On January 8, some Pakistani troops intruded into the Indian territory in the Jammu area, killed two Indian soldiers, beheading one of them. The details of the barbaric act were given wide publicity, discussed in no-rhetoric-barred television debates, which gave rise to public outrage and tough talk by the army chief. The opposition spearheaded by the Bharatiya Janata Party sought to exploit the public outrage for partisan political purposes.
Why this difference in our reactions to the 2011 and 2013 beheadings? The answer is simple. In 2011, the election year 2014 was far away.
There may be votes to be gained by fanning further and exploiting the public outrage. The BJP was the first to jump into the fray for indulging in the game of politicisation of the barbaric act in order to reiterate its demand, which has broad public support, for a strong response to Pakistan, even if it meant freezing of the bilateral dialogue. A number of senior retired civilian and military officers joined the war dance promoted by our television channels. Anyone who kept out of this war dance was ridiculed as a softie.
It is against this background that one should analyse the seeming metamorphosis of Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh on Tuesday. On the occasion of the Army Day, one saw a transformation of Dr Singh from a man of eternal goodwill to Pakistan to one of tough talk and action.
In his chat with a group of journalists at the function, he was reported to have stated that those Pakistanis responsible for the barbaric act will have to be brought to book and that "it cannot be business as usual with Pakistan."
Simultaneously, the government chose to send three messages of a new activism to the Pakistani government. These were the decision to defer the implementation of the introduction of visa on arrival for senior citizens from Pakistan, premature termination of a visit of Pakistani hockey players and cancellation of the participation of some Pakistani women cricketers in the World Cup starting next month in India.
These measures, which are inconsequential, have been projected as signs of a new toughness in the government's attitude towards Pakistan. The government has also sought to open a dialogue with the BJP towards a national consensus on our response to the barbaric act by Pakistan
The new government activism and toughness seem to be more opportunistic and tactical than genuine and strategic. Any euphoria that the government has at last woken up to the ground reality of a hostile Pakistan will be unwarranted. It is essentially a pre-poll charade to deny the BJP any gains because to the public outrage following the killing of our soldiers. The charade will continue till the public outrage continues. Thereafter, we will again be back to business as usual.
This can be prevented only by the public and the opposition continuing to keep up the pressure on the government without letting themselves be disarmed by the seeming new toughness.
While the strategic dialogue with Pakistan should continue, the government should demonstrate its earnestness by announcing some policy initiatives in consultation with the opposition. One such policy initiative will be an announcement to revive and revamp the covert action division of the intelligence community without specifically linking the action to Pakistan.
(The writer is additional secretary (retd), cabinet secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies.)