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Modi's masterstroke

Last updated on: October 08, 2016 19:51 IST

Narendra Modi

'Modi's brilliance seems to be in combining Indira Gandhi's 'feel' for the Indian pulse and Narasimha Rao's cynicism.'
'By the time the Opposition leaders caught up with Modi over the surgical strikes, he had already moved on,' says M K Bhadrakumar.

The cacophony over India's 'surgical strikes' against Pakistan on September 29 only goes to underscore that India's Opposition politicians are kids on the block who can't grasp what a gifted magician they deal with in the persona of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In a matter of some 72 hours, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi swung from one extreme to the other -- from eulogising Modi for his prime ministerial mettle in ordering 'surgical strikes' to scorning him as a coward hiding behind the Indian Army.

Our red comrades fared hardly any better. The cerebral mind of Sitaram Yechury, unsurprisingly, smelt a rat and suspended opinion. Indeed, Communists are credited with scientific temper.

But then, not all Communists are alike. Sitaram's comrades in Kerala went berserk. The Kerala state assembly passed a resolution congratulating the 'surgical strikes.' People's Democracy, the CPI-M weekly newspaper, has since demanded details from the Modi government on the 'surgical strikes.'

Rahul Gandhi could have sought the advice of two elder statesmen in his party -- former PM Manmohan Singh and former defence minister A K Antony -- about the Indian Army's code of conduct on the Line of Control.

They would have told him that Indian Army began crossing the LoC since the time Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao and that there were several instances of such cross-border strikes (by us as well as the Pakistanis), but neither acknowledged committing the blasphemy of breaching the sanctity of the LoC, which used to be, after all, the anchor-sheet of the relationship enshrined in the Simla Agreement.

Rahul Gandhi, equipped with that proper information, could then have begun wondering why Modi decided to resort to such high octane publicity for the 'surgical strikes' at all. He lost that opportunity to think and strategise.

Similarly, if only the comrades in Kerala had reached out to the erudite mind of Sitaram before jumping the gun, they would have looked more like Communists with a rational mind.

Where is it that battle-hardened politicians like Pinarayi Vijayan and Rahul Gandhi have gone hopelessly wrong?

The answer is simple. Neither went wrong, actually.

They acted instinctively in the best traditions of bourgeois politicians with an eye on electoral politics. Period.

Their mortal fear was that the Bharatiya Janata Party would outrun them on the wicket of 'patriotism' and the safe thing would be to bandwagon with Modi's followers so that they didn't look like stragglers.

Ex-servicemen are a potential vote bank. Why surrender it to the BJP?

The heart of the matter is that it has become virtually impossible today to outdo the BJP in 'patriotism.'

The BJP spokesmen, including ex-generals, weep in front of us on live television at the slightest reference to the army's 'sacrifice.' Yes, tears well up in their eyes, moistening their handle-bar moustaches.

In such a bizarre country, what option do bourgeois politicians have except to wear patriotism on the sleeves?

Indeed, it is about time to ponder where our political class immersed in the bourgeois skulduggery is leading the nation.

In particular, we are doing a terrible thing to the Indian Army in not discussing openly and with transparency the corruption, cronyism and careerism eating at the vitals of that fine institution, which now looks a pale shadow of what the departing British handed down to us.

What matters today is the glaring disconnect between the statement by the Director General of Military Operations Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh in the forenoon of September 29 and the highly embellished interpretations of it given without attribution by the 'Deep State' that duly appeared in the media.

To my mind, the DGMO made an uncharacteristic statement. Faujis are very precise and factual because they take war as very serious business -- or, because that's how Sandhurst trained them in the old days. But the DGMO's statement looked as if it was drafted in the Prime Minister’s Office. It was needlessly verbose, scanty in precise details.

If the GHQ in Rawalpindi knew what happened, what was the point in keeping details away from the Indian public once the leadership decided to publicise the 'surgical strikes'?

To be sure, Modi's doosra caught the Opposition parties napping. Look how magnificently he handled a tricky situation to his great advantage.

Within 24 hours of the 'surgical strikes', while the media blitzkrieg in India was only peaking and the war hysteria was rising, Modi made sure National Security Advisor Ajit Doval phoned up his Pakistani counterpart Nasser Khan Janjua in a quiet aside to calm them down.

Simply put, the Pakistanis understood that Modi was grandstanding and their army was the last thing on his mind.

The great beauty about the India-Pakistan relationship has always been this: The DNA of the Punjabi establishment in Pakistan and our political class in the Hindi heartland is virtually identical.

To a South Indian from his remote vantage point in a settled community, their mutual animosities and tribalism always looked contrived and emotional, belying logic and reason.

Of course, whether Doval succeeded in wrapping up a deal with Janjua, time only will tell. That is because no one really is in charge in Islamabad. Out there, as W B Yeats wrote, the 'falcon cannot hear the falconer.'

Be that as it may, it should not detract from Modi's brilliance in combining Indira Gandhi's 'feel' for the Indian pulse and Narasimha Rao's cynicism.

By the time Pinarayi and Rahul Gandhi caught up with Modi, he had already moved on to another planet.

Modi had already issued a clarion call to avoid 'chest-thumping.' By sequestering himself from the BJP's relentless 'chest-thumping.' Modi ensured that Rahul Gandhi's diatribe against him personally looked as petulance and the People's Democracy editorial as tardy pedantic.

How does the balance sheet of 'surgical strikes' look like, a week later?

  • One, Modi apparently got the DGMO to read out a PMO handout. The imprimatur of the Indian Army, however, comes handy, providing an alibi for not disclosing the facts regarding the 'surgical strikes.'
  • The issue has been turned into casting aspersions on the Indian Army's integrity. Who wants to be a traitor?
  • Two, Modi managed to 'de-escalate' -- temporarily, at least -- which was also what Washington expected of him.
  • Three, Modi sanctioned high-profile publicity to the 'surgical strikes' and probably hopes to exploit it in the upcoming state elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
  • Four, Modi kept the RSS core constituency happy that he is indeed what he was reputed to be.
  • Five, Modi threw a few bits from the high table at the strategic community. Our 'hawks' are in delirious excitement that a 'jaw-for-tooth' strategy toward Pakistanis unfolding.
  • Six, Modi ensured that the Opposition followed him like a Pied Piper.

Finally, India's attention has wandered away from the eye of the storm -- upheaval in the Kashmir valley. Perhaps, forever.

M K Bhadrakumar