Monday, March 8, 2021

Of clouds & rains

Among the many shameful remarks made by prime minister Narendra Modi during this election campaign, his comments on his role in the Balakot strike including his contention that he over-ruled the advice of the Air Force regarding bad-weather with the hope that “clouds and rains would benefit the Indian pilots and help them escape the Pakistani radars” probably tops the list. This is a betrayal of ignorance and manifestation of callousness coupled with stupidity at the highest echelons of powers. The contention about radars defies all scientific logic. The remarks are irresponsible, embarrassing and suggest the possibility of the person in authority pushing soldiers into a dangerous zone due to his unscientific temperament. The comment made in an interview to a news channel has made India the laughing-stock of the world. Pakistan for obvious reasons would thrive on such words. The ridiculous aspect apart, the prime minister’s words necessitates a scrutiny of the wisdom guiding the conduct of the strike despite inclement weather conditions, questions about which were earlier raised by experts soon after the strike but dismissed with official indifference. The Balakot strike has already been caught in the midst of a global row. While Indian government claimed its success in killing large number of terrorists, the number of which has been conflicted officially, international reports have suggested that the Jaish-e-Mohammed seminary, which was the intended target, was never hit. Leaving aside the political pragmatism of the strikes that brought India and Pakistan close to a war, Modi’s remarks once again brings into spotlight the vital question of the “strategic success quotient” of the air-strikes with an additional poser on the vulnerability of the Air Force pilots. Did the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy take the final decision of going ahead with the strikes on a bad-weather day on the basis of expert opinion and advice or on the basis of his own whims and fanciful imagination about Pakistani radars? These are worrying questions and demonstrate the callousness with which the security of the country and its soldiers is dealt with. The interview in which the prime minister proudly boasted about his scientific ignorance about radars apart from flaunting his “possession of digital and e-mail technology” way back in 1987-88 when the technology did not exist arouses curiosity. Ever since he became the prime minister, Modi is known to shy away from uncomfortable questions, has not held a single press conferences and there is a distinct hint that the questions and answers in all his select interviews in the last five years are scripted. The one in question seemed no exception. It would be futile to question the wisdom of the ‘loyalist’ interviewers who did not cross-question Modi’s idea of science and strategic wisdom; or ask him if he had patented the digital camera and the e-mail in the 80s. But, if this was yet another scripted interview, it would presumably have been scanned by Modi’s advisors before it was rehearsed and spoken. Was this scrutiny driven by callousness and ignorance? If yes, it is a sad reflection of the merit of prime minister’s coterie of advisors. If it was a case of calculated application of mind, it is an even bigger cause for concern because then it is inspired by the ambition of playing to a gallery of gullible and ignorant voters amidst the election season. Is the prime minister’s office willing to sacrifice the larger interests of India’s dignity, safety of soldiers, success of strategic operations and peace in the region to such petty political interests? The remarks have not only embarrassed India globally, they have raised lot of serious questions, the mist over which can be cleared by none other than the prime minister himself. He is accountable to the public that elected his government to power for five years. His government must come out with the truth of Balakot strikes and clarify the confusion whether it was hastily planned or whether his comment was meant to mislead the public. In either case, an apology to the nation is due from the highest echelons of power.