Published in Dawn — photo by AFP/Getty
Well before he was swept to Delhi, an RSS unknown called Narendra Modi sat down with Ashish Nandy, the famous psychologist. Nandy left the interview “in no doubt that here was a classic, clinical case of a fascist.” Nandy’s diagnosis met all the criteria: “massive use of the ego defence of projection…combined with fantasies of violence.”
It’s hard to disagree in the wake of the Gujarat riots. Seventeen years since his Muslim constituents were beheaded, raped, or burnt alive, the closest Chief Minister Modi came to remorse was telling Reuters, “Even (when) a little puppy comes under the wheel of a car, do we not feel pain? We do.”
Yet when the chief minister became prime minister, some Pakistanis were still smiling. Only a Nixon could go to China, they said, and only a mass-murderer could make peace with Islamabad. But Modi made India brutal and brittle instead, the RSS Parivar he’d always dreamed of.
That’s the trouble with electing maniacs: they miss the forest for the trees (or, in this case, the training camp for the forest). Over the past five days, Pakistan and India fought their first air war in half a century, and came the closest to nuclear Armageddon since 2002.
Two trends emerge: an Indian press that pushed its own people to war and, to paraphrase Arundhati Roy, a prime minister that doesn’t blink in the face of bloodshed.
Which is why we should sift the facts from the war cries: this all began on 14 February in Pulwama, Kashmir, when native Adil Dar killed forty Indian soldiers. As Vasundhara Sirnate and Suchitra Vijayan’s extensive analysis of Pulwama’s coverage makes clear, the Indian press ‘largely ascribed to itself the role of an amplifier of government propaganda.’ Dar was picked up six times but never arrested. How the sheer volume of explosives made it from Pakistan and past India’s army, BSF, and CRPF remained a mystery. Investigators lamented ‘very little evidence.’ Most of all, there was no narrative relating to the Kashmiris, ‘who only appear to the Indian audience as terrorists, stone pelters, or human shields tied to jeeps.’
As always, the root cause of the Kashmir problem can be summed up in one word: occupation. But tell that to Modi, who buried Indian gains in the Valley in a hail of pellets. If growth was slow and Kashmir was burning, Modi would externalize a homegrown insurgency, and teach Pakistan a lesson.
That meant Balakot. From the producers that brought you ‘surgical strike’ and ’56-inch-chest,’ Balakot was a Bollywood blockbuster aimed right for the Sanghi market. What was tragic was the Indian press selling out as fast: the world was breathlessly told a JeM camp had been destroyed, 300 lay dead, and Mother India knew no red lines. This was repeated by the usual cadre of Western experts, who analyse South Asia as ably as they digest South Asian food.
Here, again, the reality was a world away. While Delhi disowned the 300 number, befuddled locals told the press about a dead crow and that one gentleman who was injured by shrapnel. Satellite imagery confirmed as much, showing the IAF had impacted ‘a wooded area’, with zero damage to the structures around it.
As vacant celebrities hashtagged #JiyeHind – celebrating their victory over militant vegetables – Modi’s problems worsened. An Indian Mi-17 crashed of its own accord, killing six. And Pakistan responded to this ingress by shooting down two IAF warplanes and capturing the pilot. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was rescued and returned, in contrast to the thousands of Kashmiri civilians that lay in mass graves.
But the media’s descent into lunacy was too far gone; Indian press agencies were left to recycle ISPR photos of downed MiGs as evidence Delhi shot down a Pakistani F-16, while Indian aviation experts corrected wiser, battle-hardened news anchors. A shout-out is merited here to journalist Barkha Dutt, who lost the reputation she never deserved in the first place. Caught beween a rock and a Hindutva hard place, Barkha shrilled for war, wept for peace, and then beat a retreat.
At every absurd step, India’s narrative was a whirl of war drums and red-faced generals, while Pakistan’s prime minister and press – miraculously – urged peace and peace alone. Rarely has Pakistan managed an international crisis with this much patience, prudence, and diplomatic skill. It must now keep its momentum: intolerance towards non-state actors must be ratcheted up for the sake of our own people, what to say of world opinion. Tensions, too, are far from over: with innocents near the LOC in danger every day, harmony can be the only object.
As for Modi’s India, it can try giving peace a chance (as opposed to nuclear holocaust). And it can vote out a heartless prime minister and calm a hysterical press. Until then, there’s no cure for reality, Ajay Devgn films included.