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Above: BSF jawans keeping vigil at the Attari international border/Photo: UNI

By Inderjit Badhwar

Patriotism should be a creed of passion rather than an outlet for hysteria which often causes nations to leap into darkness, unreason and folly. There is no gainsaying that in the aftermath of Pulwama and Balakot, there is a level of stridency and revanchism I have never before witnessed—not during India’s embarrassing defeat to China in 1962 when we lost men and territory, not in 1965, not in 1971 when India created Bangladesh out of East Pakistan, and certainly not during the Kargil war when Indian soldiers crushed Pakistani military adventurism in the high Himalayas.

The main difference was that there was either no TV at the time, or later, when TV arrived, anchors were mostly civilised, educated and sober, and did not go into whooping war dances during national security crises. Media commentators of substance and stature questioned their governments publicly on geopolitics, war preparedness, strategy and policy.  Reporters (I was among them) were actually given war correspondent training in military exercises to enable them to send despatches from conflict zones.

Blood-curdling war-whooping from TV studios is a relatively new phenomenon which has much to do with TRP ratings as it has with the mass-selling, calibrated and orchestrated politicisation of national security scenarios by politicians who have never faced a bullet in defence of their country nor have any idea where the LoC with Pakistan lies.

Actually, despite the political sturm und drang in the TV studios, there is considerable reason, good sense and sane counsel on the real ground—among ordinary people, including our soldiers and security forces who are in the front lines. One of them is Abhinav Kumar, a fine journalist whom I was privileged to supervise in the newsroom, now an IPS officer serving as IG Frontier HQ BSF, Srinagar.

You won’t see Abhinav in the Mad Max TV studios. You can catch his thoughts occasionally in a national daily, but more on social media. What caught my attention recently on his Facebook timeline was a piece I would like to share with my readers.

Writes Abhinav, who is known to be a no-nonsense law-and-order police officer:

“A nation that implodes into paroxysms of fear and anxiety at the sight of one brave soldier in captivity, is not the nation that Wing Cdr Varthaman flew up to defend. All of us who serve in uniform, whether on the borders or in our hinterland, against the enemies of India, know what we are up against. We don’t always expect perfect understanding from our citizens, but both the display of chest thumping jingoism, and the display of breast beating hysteria at the plight of our captured air warrior are unwise and unseemly. We could honestly do without the mindlessness of both varieties. No one said that the job of defending India was going to be predictable or pretty.

“No one wants war, but Pulwama and the scores of bloody blows that we have taken in the past in Kashmir and elsewhere, are not my idea of an honest and durable peace. So please grow up and pipe down India on the rhetoric about war and the pious homilies about peace. It is really hard to motivate the men if they think that we are a nation of mindless jingoists or spineless cowards.”

In a related post, Abhinav argues that on behalf of all those serving in Kashmir, he is thankful for the outpouring of grief and support by patriotic citizens across the country. But he cautions that a few things should  happen for this support to materialise into something of lasting value.

“First of all please don’t demonise all Kashmiris, including the youth who post stupid offensive messages on social media. We need communal harmony across the country more than ever. Second, all those who ask why our forces cannot be better equipped to deal with unexpected threats, the short answer is that we are a low income country with a low tax to GDP ratio. If you really want to help the forces, pay your taxes honestly. A strong state cannot be built on a weak economy and divided society. In this time of crisis, we must reaffirm our faith in our constitutional and civilisational values of inclusiveness, tolerance and courage.”

Our TV anchors would do well to learn from Abhinav. Personally, I believe that our guys out there in the trenches and in the line of fire are far more sanguine, practical, balanced, brave and realistic than the anchors and cowardly politicians crying havoc and creating mindless pandemonium behind the protective cover of our TV screens and studios. Our men and women in uniform are brains, muscle and blood—and not tin soldiers to be manipulated or pawned for ANYBODY’s myopic political gain. They are owned only by the soil that gave them birth—which they are sworn to defend and protect—and not by scoundrels of any political hue who find hysterical patriotism a last refuge without understanding that word or realising that the very act of donning your nation’s uniform is inherently and irrevocably, in and of its own, innately patriotic.

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