. . . . . .  


Why do Indian voters need to ink their ballot papers with the blood of Pakistanis?  

Mrs. Indira Gandhi tried this ploy to secure a landslide victory in the 1970s, and succeeded. Mr. Narendra Modi has repeated the trick, and failed.  Gradually, PM Modi’s bellicosity has revealed the extent to which he will go to retain a majority in the Lok Sabha.  He entered India’s parliament first five years ago. He intends not to leave it until at least May 2024, if not beyond, whatever the cost to his country.  

His latest ruse - a pre-emptive IAF attack on Balakot within Pakistan’s territory – may well be his Kargil. He has sought to erase this Himalayan miscalculation by declaring with imperial disdain that he and India are one, aping Mrs. Gandhi’s slogan: India is Indira; Indira is India. Such hubris is costly. A BJP led-coalition may return to power but deny Mr. Modi entry into the PM’s office. Ironically, he has assured Imran Khan a second term as Pakistan’s prime minister, and an extension for General Qamar Javed Bajwa as its COAS. After May 2019, any Indian PM will have to deal with the growing sagacity of one buttressed by the iron tenacity of the other.   

Napoleon once asked whether a particular marshal was lucky. PM Modi needs luck and success, and both are eluding him. While his government coerces India’s plasticine press into improbable postures of patriotism, he is being hounded by the Opposition. Over twenty significant parties, led by Rahul/Sonia Gandhi’s Indian National Congress, have challenged PM Modi, accusing him of ‘blatant politicisation of sacrifices of armed forces by the ruling party.’  It is an unprecedented indictment, a parliamentary revolt during war-time.

Modi’s government planned a diplomatic offensive by which Pakistan would be condemned for its sponsorship of terrorism at the recent OIC conference in Abu Dhabi. Its External Affairs minister Smt. Shushma Swaraj expected her maiden appearance at the OIC moot as its chief guest would yield fruit. The harvest – unexpected and bitter - came wrapped in an OIC resolution that condemned ‘in the strongest possible terms recent wave of Indian terrorism in occupied Jammu and Kashmir'. India, which spent years manoeuvring to have Pakistan declared a terrorist state, suddenly found itself tarred.  

It is these reverses that have made PM Modi look outside himself for a national hero. He has encouraged idle hands in India to fabricate a papier-mâché effigy out of the surviving IAF pilot whose MiG-21 was downed by his Pakistani opponent.  Even that pilot will admit that he has as little claim to heroism as the infamous U-2 Gary Powers. Each lost a horrendously expensive aircraft. Both swallowed maps instead of a suicide pill, and both were captured alive. Gary Powers served almost two years in a Soviet prison before being exchanged for a Russian spy in 1962. The Indian pilot was released by Pakistan after two days of dignified detention. A Jain organisation (it extols pacifism) has awarded him a 'Bhagwan Mahavir Ahimsa Puraskar'. Is it tempting other Indian pilots to jettison their aircraft for this unheard-of honour?    

The Indian Air Force is silent at this irrational recognition of its pilot’s failure. Its reticence is understandable. It cannot explain how two aircraft – a MiG-21 and a Su-30 that carries two pilots – could be lured into Pakistan territory and then downed in fair aerial combat. Or why, so the surviving pilot claims, he had our F-16 locked in sight yet neglected to destroy it?

His stricken MiG-21 fell on our side, the Su-30 on India’s. The Indians have yet to concede that the Su-30 was destroyed on impact. One of the Su-30 pilots was believed injured, the other died. Yet neither casualty receives any acknowledgement by the IAF. Whoever they were, whatever their names, their fate has been shrouded by the IAF, buried deep by civilian propagandists.

The Indians blame their failure on obsolete Russian MiG aircraft, and on the malodorous Rafale deal (price-tagged at €7.87 billion/IRs 59,000 crore)  concluded by Modi’s government for 36 fighter aircraft. These are yet to be supplied by a joint venture between the Croesus-rich Anil Ambani’s Reliance group and France’s Dassault Aviation.

Conversely, Pakistan has chosen to honour its PAF heroes quietly, and with sobriety. Our ace pilots - particularly Squadron Leader Hassan Siddiqui and Wing Commander Noman Ali Khan - have demonstrated that they possess the same skill and mastery over the same formidable enemy which generations of PAF warriors have shown, especially since 1965.  

Winston Churchill said it of his RAF during the Battle of Britain in 1940. His unforgettable phrase (laden heavy with gratitude) expresses the sentiments of our entire nation to our PAF heroes and to all our Armed Forces: ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’.  




[DAWN, 7 March 2019]  

07 March 2019
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