In the early hours of September 29, the NDA government carried out surgical strikes on terror launch pads along the LoC, and owned up to it. On that day, the India-Pakistan relationship entered a new phase, imbued with a new dynamic, bearing new challenges — and raising key questions. What was the defined objective of the military strike and has it been accomplished? Have the costs of the proxy war that Pakistan has waged against India been raised in a manner and to an extent that it is dissuaded in future? What are the next steps for India’s government, for managing the escalation? In a robust democracy, these are questions that must be asked of the government and questions that the government must address, within the constraints and while keeping the necessary options open, without labelling the questioners as unpatriotic or anti-national. But in a climate where the initial sobriety displayed by both government and opposition after the strikes is rapidly evaporating, serious conversation or questioning is being rendered difficult. On show is the triumphalism and chest-thumping by sections of the ruling dispensation, being countered by immature claims and irresponsible dares issued by the opposition, particularly the Congress.
Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar broke through the general restraint with which his government had handled the aftermath of the surgical strikes with some effusive imagery, describing Pakistan as the anaesthetised patient after surgery, and the Indian army like Lord Hanuman, awakening to its own prowess. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad followed his colleague’s trail, and went further. Suggesting that to question government and the army is to be with Pakistan, he accused Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of making headlines in the Pakistani media and warned him not to “do or say anything whereby our armed forces feel let down”. This, after Kejriwal had exhorted the government, quite unexceptionably, to expose “Pakistan’s false propaganda”.
The Congress, after having initially supported the government, no questions asked, appears to be rashly overcompensating. Digvijaya Singh has asked that the government furnish proof of the strikes, while, and here is the problem, the party has officially boasted that it had carried out similar strikes when it was in government in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013, but not taken political ownership. All revelations are welcome, by those who are in power and those who have been. But that a thought-through governmental policy can be upended so cavalierly by the Congress in the heat of this moment, just to score points off the BJP, is immensely sobering. The Congress has raised questions that the Congress must answer even as it interrogates the government.
There is need for greater thoughtfulness and responsibility on all sides. The BJP-led government, which has opened a new front against the terror that has repeatedly struck the nation from across the LoC, must refrain from drawing borders within. And the Congress must know that its rhetoric in this difficult moment will return to haunt.