Mutilation of the bodies of two Indian soldiers dominated the national narrative last week. It attracted more attention than the death of 26 soldiers in Chhattisgarh around the same time. The outrage over the ghastly mutilations perpetrated by a battalion of regular Pakistani soldiers and terrorists overshadowed everything else.
Outrage in television studios was quickly followed by a strident and decisive call for action. News anchors in various frames of patriotism called for immediate and swift surgical strikes. The Indian government or the Defence Minister did not pick up the gauntlet this time. Though, the television media still did not let go as it shifted the focus towards the funeral of the martyrs. Here again, it was a competition between different news channels to show the funeral procession. Though, none of them had cameras on the ground and they were all dependent on a common feed. Nevertheless, they tried to outdo each other with their hate commentary.
Sea of bright-coloured turbans dominated the TV screens, followed by the worst form of journalism, asking the spouses of slain martyrs about their loss. Asking them about what action they wanted from the government for the death of their husbands. In their desperate search for TRPs and revenues, TV news channels have now fallen to their lowest level. They are willing to squeeze every emotion, even a death of a martyr, to keep ahead of the game.
Television newsrooms seem to have lost the capacity to analyse the impact of their action. News anchors now feel that if evoking patriotism and inciting a war will attract an audience, then so be it.
The sad fact behind this façade of patriotism or this recently discovered nationalism is Pakistan’s playbook. A game straight out of Al Qaeda's strategy, where media is manipulated to trigger offensive action. It justifies another action, instead of two soldiers, more will be mutilated next time.
The government may be mindful of this strategy, but people at large and even opinion-makers seem to be ignorant. The decibel has been raised so high by news channels that inaction is seen as a failure of the government. The Irony is that a small incident and the lack of reaction can be portrayed as a failure of the Indian government.
If the government responds, say, with another surgical strike, and if it is successful, TV channels and even newspapers will rejoice. What is lost is the failure to see the game, the playbook. Pakistan will again trigger the same play and will continue to do so until the pasty-faced anchors and posturing retired army officers go blue in their face.
Government and even political spokespersons need to realise that the nationalist or aggressive stance they have adopted are now being manipulated by Pakistan. India can choose to respond, react and play by the Pakistani playbook or not. This realisation is important not only for the government but Indian media, especially for those who are donning battle fatigues in newsrooms.
Multiple series of actions and reactions, escalating upwards, will raise the level and nature of violence. New forms of bestiality will emerge from this escalation to maintain the outrage. As the violence escalates between the two countries, it will also increase the radicalisation among the youth in Kashmir. The border skirmishes are just a side show in Pakistan’s bigger game in Kashmir. Hopefully, we do not confuse one for the other.
Raising the game in Kashmir is also part of the same Pakistani playbook. Kashmir is a complex problem and it does not need another iron fist, firm hand or any of the other strong-arm tactics. The balance has to be regained on the ground and in the hearts of the population. Anger has to be channelised, otherwise the pressure cooker, that is now Srinagar, will burst.
Army has been dealing with local population for decades, what has changed is the overenthusiasm of the leadership to show results. Defence forces deployed in Kashmir cannot be responsible for producing results. They are called a force for a reason, they cannot bring solutions to the table. Direct line of communication need to be established. Engaging a population in the democratic process cannot be done through force, this is again a playbook where the endgame goes in Pakistan’s favour.
Street violence cannot be left to spiral out of control. If unemployed youth are taking money to throw stones, maybe they should be given less strenuous and better jobs. Engagement is a multi-pronged exercise, it does not make sense for the government to tie itself up in a straitjacket. Nationalism and patriotism are being used as levers by Pakistan in its playbook.
Will our actions be dictated by Pakistan now?
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