Context: A political narrative can be attempted on national security issues, as is evident from numerous instances of public speeches by politicians, especially from the BJP. Balakot and Pulwama figure prominently in BJP’s poll strategy for such a construction, while the decision to purchase Rafale fighters has been consistently questioned, essentially by the Congress party, making it a live political issue in the run-up to the elections. As argued in the last piece, select national security issues have already been politicised to such an extent that its implications could not only get reflected in the electoral verdicts but more importantly on the state, armed forces and its citizenry beyond elections.
One of the fundamental questions that eludes us is: even if arguments can be built by taking up select cases/incidents related to national security, do they necessarily lead to a formidable narrative that impacts election verdicts in the short term and state security in the longer term? Assumptions can be attempted, but definitive answers to this vexed question are bound to be subjective interpretations, at the best. Lack of verifiable data often times leads to subjective assumptions. All issues on the table – Pulwama, Balakot, A-SAT tests, Rafale – typify ‘data deficits’ in the public domain, to say the least.
In the run-up to the elections and in the absence of reasonable quantum of data, such cases/incidents are prone to politicisation, and by extension construction of rumours from both political spectrums. Politicised security incidents do possess capacities of building narratives and counter-narratives for short-term political gains or losses. However, mired in the processes are real issues that need serious national attention beyond politics. Members of armed forces – serving or retired – are reduced to the status of mute spectators in this political game.
Attempts to build a narrative by the BJP center around three notions: a) a militarily muscular assertive posture that every action by a non-state actor, primarily across the western border (that has been the case thus far, as hot-pursuits against non-state actors in the north-east region bordering Myanmar, or for that matter actions against left-wing rebels in the red-affected regions of states like Chhatishgarh, where instances of massive CRPF personnel have occurred in recent past, have entailed comparatively limited media attention) will have an assertive reaction, as demonstrated in Balakot; b) such assertive actions demonstrate a formidable example of decisive leadership, contrary to hesitant decisions by a loose coalition government, led by a puppet leader (Dr Manmohan Singh, for example) or political constraints (checks and balances from coalition parties) ; and c) last but not the least, consciously build a narrative of nationalistic idea that transcends national boundaries, which in parallel sends across a message to the global community in general and the region in particular that India’s new security narrative is here to commence, crystallise and mature. Pulwama and Balakot connote all these attributes.
Pitted against an assertive wide wave of the nationalist narrative building by citing instances of Pulwama and Balakot, thus inciting patriotic fever across the country, the opposition parties have limited options of space for debate. The opposition parties have resorted to the argument that none of the citizens is anti-national, but state braggadocio must lay down fact for public consumption. Hence, they are asking for data, not distinctly individual proofs. Led by Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party has been harping on the issue related to the questionable decision taken for the purchase of Rafale fighters, an issue that long precedes Pulwama or Balakot. The recent Supreme Court ruling, that the review petition filed needs to be examined further is treated as a strong verdict, which will be politically exploited by the opposition parties.
Each of the three major politicised issues – Pulwama, Balakot and Rafale – are individual instances of security issues – domestic or cross-border – that are unfortunately mired in political debates. Simply interpreted, Pulwama is a test case of internal security with reasons that are multi-dimensional; Balakot is a test case that entails multiple military, diplomatic and political dimensions; and Rafale is a test case of political/procedural/military dynamics. None of the instances needs autopsy in public if strategies/operations/procedures are followed, but unfortunately, they have been dragged into politics.
BJP’s attempts to build a narrative on robust nationalism, Congress’s attempts to question the state wisdom on security-related procurement issues, and the fringe yet presumably dominant regional parties’ non-committal position, suggest a vicious political atmosphere in the run-up to national elections. The silent sufferer is the jawaan – who guards us day in and day out and witness to the current political slugfest, whose primary necessities should otherwise be given utmost priority by the state.
Deba Mohanty is a New Delhi-based security affairs analyst. The first part of the article series can be read