The government is reportedly making massive plans to mark the 50th anniversary of the India-Pakistan 1965 war. Details of a “carnival” that the ministry of defence has asked the three services to put up on Rajpath are still being worked out, but going by this government’s fascination for setting records, it seems safe to assume that it will put into shade any war commemoration that India has so far witnessed. Nations across the world do, in one way or another, commemorate their military victories, and honour soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their country. In May this year, the World War II Allies — the US, France, the UK, and separately Russia — marked the 70th anniversary of Germany’s surrender. The leaders constantly stressed that it was not the defeat of one country at the hands of others that was being commemorated, but the defeat of Nazism and fascism. The war ended decades of hostility between Germany and its neighbours, and could even be said to have paved the way for a European Union. In South Asia, where India and Pakistan have remained hostile, barring a few unsuccessful and shortlived attempts to make peace, a month of gung-ho events to celebrate a war fought with a neighbour 50 years ago does not seem like a good idea.
Given the current no-talk atmosphere between the two countries, recent statements made by ministers on sending “a message to Pakistan” via Myanmar, and tensions flaring along the Line of Control repeatedly, fears that such a long and festive calendar of events can only have a negative impact on India-Pakistan ties are justified. The event, positioning the outcome of the 1965 war as a victory, is already being viewed in Pakistan with concern. Pro-democracy lobbies in that country see the planned Indian celebration as something that will reinforce anti-Pakistan sentiments in India, which in turn will provide more oxygen to anti-India lobbies on their side. It may be that the government has decided to go all out on the anniversary as a way to blunt the mounting criticism from servicemen over its failure to implement the “One Rank, One Pension” promise. But that political purpose too may not be achieved — ex-servicemen’s associations have already declared they will boycott the events.
Certainly, let there be a commemorative event for the 1965 war. India must not forget the bravery of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives defending the nation. But it would be best if, instead of playing on victors and vanquished through a carnival-like celebration, the remembrance could stress that wars are a sad business, should be fought reluctantly if at all, and are definitely not the best way to settle differences with other countries.