When on 10 Feb I concluded a Himmat blog on India’s coming election with the remark, ‘The possibility of provoked or unprovoked violence should be kept in mind,’ I did not expect to be proved so appallingly right within four days.
Shortly after 3 p.m. on 14 February, a bus in a long convoy of India’s Central Reserve Police Force that was trudging up National Highway 44 from Jammu and was only about 12 miles south of its destination, Srinagar, was rammed by an explosive-filled vehicle that rushed up from a side road.
Over forty CRPF men in that bus, almost all born in humble homes in different corners of India, most of them fathers of young children, were killed. The attacking car was driven by a 22-year-old suicide bomber of local origin who had been enlisted a year or so ago by the Pakistan-based terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
The attack’s scale (no earlier assault in the long story of Kashmir’s insurgency had claimed so many lives), the swiftly emerging stories of forty-plus families desolated by a moment’s blast hundreds of miles away from home, and the attacker’s pre-recorded video where he proclaimed his JeM/Pakistani link as also his disdain for Hindus and their beliefs – these have all fed into existing toxicity to produce a climate in India where anything short of venom for all Pakistanis is deemed anti-national.
‘All Pakistanis are terrorists. So are all Kashmiris, except for non-Muslim ones.’ This is the new message, at times even directly expressed. From the government, coercive measures are demanded. In an online piece in Hindi, one BJP MP, R. K. Sinha, asks the Modi government to learn from China’s example. ‘See how China has forced Muslims of its Xinjiang region to eat what Islam forbids,’ Sinha writes (Theprint.in, 16 Feb).
War on Pakistan has been urged on India’s TV shows, even if it turns to nuclear war. ‘India can’t take it anymore. Pakistan should be destroyed.’ Even if the destruction spreads to India. That last point is not admitted, for anger dulls the brain.
Unfortunately but not surprisingly, Prime Minister Modi has not called for sobriety or maturity, and his chief associate, Amit Shah, has not helped by once more promising in an election rally in Assam that all illegal immigrants will be deported.
A refreshing example, however, is the refusal of the cricketer-turned-politician, Punjab’s Navjot Singh Sidhu, to withdraw a statement where he said it was wrong to hold Pakistanis as a people responsible for the terrorist attack in Pulwama.
Sidhu speaks for a great many silent Indians today and probably for a majority of the Indian people, who would not want the brutal blow received by the widows and fatherless children in the forty-plus families destroyed by Pulwama to be delivered also to more families, no matter where they live.
But those in Pakistan or in Kashmir or anywhere else who may have given a silent or not so silent assent to the 14 Feb attack must also think honestly. In the end, is there anything heroic or noble in a blast like that, which can set off a chain, even an avalanche, of sorrow and misery?
Are there not wiser, gentler and more effective ways of shaking up our unfair, unjust, callous and slow-moving world? Ways that do not invite misery on those we love?
If Pakistan’s rulers, civil or military, want peace on the subcontinent, they should bring the founders of JeM and Lashkar-e-Toiba to justice.
As for the subcontinent’s people, we know that oppression is a reality in our world. So is terrorism. The fight against each, the fight against both, calls for thought and creativity. In that demanding exercise, impatience is not going to be our ally.