When leaders fail the nation

By Prem Chandran

Nero played the flute when Rome was burning; with disastrous consequences, of course. The numbness and incompetence of India’s political leadership – which leads the nation from the front – is most evident when faced with critical situations. It is not capable even of playing the flute when faced with fire. Take for instance the scenario that was unfolding in Pulwama district in Jammu and Kashmir on Monday. An army major and several jawans were killed in an encounter, in which a joint team of the army, the police and the security forces were targeting three terrorists. This meant more loss of precious lives of our brave soldiers – over and above the over 40 CRPF jawans killed and as many maimed in the suicide bomb attack in the same district this past week.

When faced with a situation of the kind that unfolded since Sunday night, why make more soldiers sitting ducks to the fire from a bunch of terrorists holed up there? Instead, why not resort to aerial bombing and turning the entire hideout along with the terrorists into instant ashes? No rule of the game applies when one is dealing with terrorists. Why can’t the political leadership led by Narendra Modi act in a more courageous and responsible manner, rather than adopting face-saving measures like withdrawal of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status from Pakistan, or the like? In the past too, in several instances of encounter and cross- firings, India lost more soldiers than the terrorists it annihilated in their hideouts. To resort to aerial bombing, one needs the courage to act and go for the kill. Note how China and Russia keep the scourge of terrorism under control? A Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping are not leaders with feet of clay, after all.

To my mind, Narendra Modi has governed the nation in a reasonably appreciable manner in several aspects. But, what is his track record in dealing with Pakistan’s machinations and frequent play of mischief? A minor surgical strike is what he and the BJP have gone boasting about?

Pakistan is bent on playing more mischief, through instruments like Jaish whose links with ISI are too well-known. Look at the way the convoy of CRPF jawans was transported from one place to another. Clearly, private vehicles were allowed to intercept the convoy at will, with no concern for the safety of soldiers in a land where anything could happen any time. There is intelligence failure as a top former RAW chief Vikram Sood has stated in Hyderabad, stressing that this was not an act of just one suicide bomber. Yet, with the huge money spent on intelligence gathering in the Valley, no hint came as to what was happening. There was lethargy on the part of the officials engaged in the surveillance operations. And, there was failure on the part of the political leadership which oversaw matters from Delhi.

Massod Azhar, the notorious character heading the Jaish-e-Mohammed  is roaming around freely in Pakistan, under the patronage of the ISI. His institutions also collect huge funds in that name from the Gulf and other regions and he’s standing for elections, and playing more mischief against India in multiple ways. All these directly under the watch of the political establishment in Pakistan with direct support from the military intelligence wing, the ISI. Yet, India has no guts to confront it for its acts of omissions and commissions. This is a strange situation. The Mumbai attacks occurred; India under Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi scurried for cover. Later, the attacks on Pathankot airbase took place, followed by a similar attack on the Uri military establishment. Both happened under Modi’s watch. India simply blinked. Pakistan asked for proof, and in a shameful manner, India scurried around to collect proof. Everybody knew how Pakistan would respond to it. It said this was no proof. In the first place, why did India take the trouble of collecting and giving proof to Pakistan? Did it expect of the enemy nation to take action against the perpetrators –its own military brass and the rogue agencies like Jaish? In doing so, the Modi government was simply buying time, and its actions in this respect were just an eye-wash to fool the Indian citizenry.

Meanwhile what is the impression gaining ground in Pakistan. With India not taking strong action against Pakistan, Jaish kingpin Masoor Azhar’s stature grew from a hero to a demi-god. By its failure to act, India has accorded Azhar a superhuman status in Pakistan. He’s gaining in stature and keeps having the last laugh. Instead, had Pakistan been made to pay a heavy price for what its operatives did against India from Pakistani soil, Azhar would have been finished off by the Pakistani establishment itself long ago. India’s failure to act is the prime reason why Pakistan gives Azhar a free hand. The more Manmohan Singh vacillated and the more Modi does more of the same the more India will suffer.

Under Manmohan Singh and Modi, India took several hits from Pakistan and failed to retaliate act. Even Modi’s 56-inch chest meant nothing for India in the past five years. His big talks from public platforms helped little. Even at the last minute, when Modi came up with budget provisions to woo the unorganised labour and small-scale farmers with pension schemes, he did so because he found there was no other way he could win the next parliamentary elections. The assembly poll results in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh jolted him out of his slumber. Now, he’s out to create new vote banks. Had he done these within at least the first two years of his rule, his sincerity would not have been questioned. Instead, he carried on with the jaded governance systems left behind by the UPA-Congress. Other than implementing a market taxation restructuring system via the GST, he failed to change India for the better. This is not to argue that he was a failure; not so, overall. He gave leadership, refused to buckle under pressures from schemers like Chandrababu Naidu or the Thackeray clan, both corrupt to the core. He put them in their places. The strong positions Modi took on several fronts were highly appreciable. But, his failures, like in not facing situations squarely vis-a-vis Pakistan, will remain as a major black mark on his leadership.

No one is asking Modi to declare a war on Pakistan under the present  circumstances. But what other plan does Modi have to discipline a wayward, rogue neighbour?  In the past five years, has he put a Plan B in place, or slept over such matters? An Afghan route is often talked about; but this is not for open discussion. One does not know how viable it was, is, or will be. The way to hit Pakistan back, Modi once hinted, was to take the Balochistan route. India apparently could not make much headway there too. For now, Pakistan has all the aces up its sleeves. It has China on its side, it has the Islamic nations — other than, say, Iran – to be counted on for overt or covert support. Saudi Arabia and the entire Gulf patronises Pakistan. And it has the Americans who would talk but not act against it.

With Pakistan establishing closer links with China in recent years, it would be more difficult for India to take on Pakistan. India is neither with the US nor against the US. When China is exposing its designs against India, the natural course open to India is to edge closer to the US, and frame a meaningful alliance with the Americans. India failed to do that, and it expects “favours” from the US in the form of solid support to discipline Pakistan. There is abject failure of diplomacy on the Indian side even under Modi. Manmohan Singh took the first steps to reach out to the Americans. But India does not know how to go about winning friends. Truth be told – the leadership is seen to be very incompetent.

Indira Gandhi’s time was different. In the age of the Cold War, it was easy for India to ally with the Soviet Union and position itself against the US Non-Alignment which in realitywas an alignment in favour of Russia against the US. It helped India little, though it accorded it some protection and care at world fora, thanks to the clout of the Soviet Union. With the end of the Cold War and disintegration of the Soviet Union, India felt orphaned. Russia was no more into alliance games, and rather minded its business. Americans forgot the past to some extent, and said they were ready to build bridges with India in the age of US-inspired liberalization and Soviet-initiated Openness (Glasnost). But, three decades later, India is still confused and taking only baby steps towards allying with the US. You are either with someone, or not with them. The lack of courage on the part of Indian leadership to act firmly is most evident in such situations too.

Modi will not escape retribution if he fails to act this time. This is not a call for war, per se. It is time to salvage India’s image and reputation. If Modi sits back and sweats it out, it will have an impact on the way people judge him in the 2019. That’s for sure. –

(The writer is a media consultant, former Editor and a campaigner with India Against Corruption and can be contacted at [email protected])

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