In light of the recent terrorist attack on an Indian Army encampment in Jammu and Kashmir’s Uri town that killed 17 jawans, all eyes are trained on what the government will do next. Public sentiment is sharp and there is huge pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to give perpetrators of the attack a befitting reply. Interestingly, the influential Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has maintained a hyper-aggressive stance on such attacks emanating from Pakistan. After senior RSS functionary and BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav insisted that the way forward is “for one tooth, the complete jaw”, it remains to be seen whether the Sangh’s position will have a bearing on the way India’s retaliation is oriented.
Speaking on the Uri terror attack on Sunday, Ram Madhav said: “The Prime Minister has promised that those behind the Uri terror attack will not go unpunished. That should be the way forward. For one tooth, the complete jaw.” Prior to joining the BJP in his official capacity, Madhav served as spokesperson for the RSS and was a prominent member of its national executive.
Madhav said “the days of so-called strategic restraint are over” adding that “if terrorism is the instrument of the weak and coward, restraint in the face of repeated terror attacks betrays inefficiency and incompetence. India should prove otherwise.”
Concurrently, RSS general secretary Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi, second-in-command after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, gave a call for firm and conclusive action. “The terrorists, their masters and supporters should be dealt with firmly and conclusively.”
It is clear that the NDA government has a significant backing and influence of the RSS. Given the possibility that the RSS ideology and stance may shadow, or still is, the government’s Pakistan policy, PM Modi’s next move will be dissected and scrutinised in every manner possible. For years, Pakistan has perpetrated terror attacks on India. Its Inter Services Intelligence, GHQ of the Pakistani military and sponsored terror outfits have been actively targeting India exploiting our defensive standpoint and have time and again tried to make Kashmir a flashpoint.
Indian policymakers by and large have maintained a sagacious position of handling Pakistani terrorism in India and the role played by elements like JeM, LeT, Syed Salahuddin and others in escalating the tension between the two countries on the battlefront. The 26/11 attacks, Pathankot siege, Uri attack and a host of other terrorist and fidayeen attacks on Indian security forces have led to popular sentiment being aligned with the RSS view.
After the Pathankot terror attack in this January, the RSS, in an editorial in its mouthpiece Organiser, had said: “Non-state actors operate within boundaries of state with overt or covert support of some elements within. Therefore, national governments have to make a firm resolve to defeat them, without that no composite dialogue can take place. Resultantly, non-state actors become state themselves, as happened in case of the IS. Hope Pakistan does not move in the same direction.”
It had also held that the issue needs to be handled beyond blaming and cornering of governments. “Neither mere blaming Pakistan as perpetrator of cross-border terrorism nor cornering government for the sake of opposition will yield any results.”
Pakistan, which only appears to be intent on speaking about Kashmir’s sovereignty and not the Pak-supported terror activities in the region, has fuelled the divide in the state and promoted religious extremism and violence apart from civilian unrest. The BJP, which is the political offshoot of the Sangh, has tried to act amicably with the Pakistani government during its current tenure. However, several Sangh leaders echoed the view in in December 2015 that Pakistan is desperate to spread violence in Kashmir and that the international community, whose sympathy is sought by Pakistan after every attack, should be wary of their tactics.
India’s Pakistan policy is a complex issue and attacks on India’s sovereignty put the government in a more vexed situation. War with an unstable Pakistan, with an uncontrolled military and ISI, is a prospect that successive governments in the past decade and half have rightly stood off. However, the stance of absorbing continued offensives on a no-first-strike policy has done little to help India’s case. RSS has, apart from rare situations when PM Modi and in the past former PM Atal Bihar Vajpayee reaching out to Pakistan for dialogue, has maintained that negotiations or discussions on Kashmir are not an option and a soft stance makes India vulnerable to more attacks.
The government has a host of options to react further. It can urge Islamabad to take action on terrorists in Pakistan, or appeal sanctions on Pakistan from the international community, or resort to a cold start doctrine to neutralise terror heads in Pakistan with surgical strikes. It may even let the situation subside or resort to diplomatic dialogue as a measure to avoid a military or possibly a nuclear standoff with Pakistan. The Pathankot attacks resulted in increased militarisation of battle positions on the LoC and the tensions took so degree of effort to fizzle out. Madhav’s and Bhaiyaji Joshi’s views apparently resonate with the larger Sangh community to act without complacency. Madhav’s view of “For one tooth, the complete jaw” which looks to echo with the other RSS ideologues needs to be carefully handled by the government in times when popular sentiment endorses military action on India’s western neighbour.