The message emanating from Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Kozhikode in God’s own country Kerala does not seem to be of war against Pakistan, at least at this stage, unless of course, he wants to keep that surprise.
At one level it was a mature speech of an Indian leader, who knows his responsibilities and the costs involved in a knee jerk reaction and wants to exhaust all other options to “isolate” Pakistan and its rulers, the promoters and exporters of terrorism, from within and outside before considering the option of war — limited or full-scale. This effectively meant that he, as Prime Minister of India considered it a priority not to speak in a manner and fashion that could not be suggestive of war mongering. His assertiveness though gave a vent to all pervasive anger that is there in the nation but in the end sought to contain that rising clam0r for retribution through military means.
In that sense, his own core social constituents, the chest thumping nationalists who believed in muscularity in Modi’s 56-inch chest would be little disappointed. Modi began by saying “Yes India is ready to fight a war” but then tailed it off with waging a war against poverty, hunger, health hazards, unemployment by the two countries and “see who first wins over each of these social and economic problems.”
He was playing both a hawk and pragmatist at the same time. As such it was open to interpretations – understand it whatever way you like. He has to act in whatever way, as and when he deems fit. Till then his words would be open to debate in India and in Pakistan.
It may be a smart tactical move – be a statesman, build the world opinion against a rogue errant neighbour and strike at a time of your choosing, claiming that he had tried all means, of his own and of the world community, to tame but failed and was left with no other option than to use brute force.
Take this part: “Pakistan should listen carefully that the death of our 18 soldiers would not go waste.” But in next the sentence, he talked about isolating “Pakistan” on all available forums and the day is not far off when its own people would revolt against its rulers asking questions. This means that he like his own party stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee (in the aftermath of 13 December 2001 Parliament attack) is banking on a diplomatic offensive as unleashed by India and the troubles that are mounting for ruling Pakistani establishment from within Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir, Sindh, Gilgit, and Balochistan. Just that there is a difference in style between “Desh har kimat ko dene ko taiyar hai (The country is willing to pay any price)” but in the same vein he said “Desh shanti, ekta, sadbhawna se juda hai (The country is associated with peace unity and harmony)”. What message the people and armed forces personnel posted at far-flung areas should take is difficult to conclude. So would be the Pakistani establishment. They can take some solace that India was not attacking, at least for now and thus can again use the Islamabad road for motorways then keeping them free for flying fighter aircraft, open airports in the eastern part of the country and so on. The rider, of course, is Modi might spring a surprise.
It was an important occasion for him to assuage feelings of armed forces and families of martyrs. “These days there is a mood of anger in the nation. Terrorists should hear it loud and clear that the country would never forget the sacrifice of the 18 soldiers.” Then he devoted few minutes to suggest how he was proud of the country’s armed forces, their valor, and their sacrifice. Recently Indian Army had foiled 17 infiltration bids by the terrorists along the LoC, the Prime Minister said in his address.
Modi had maximum clarity on two issues. First, his brief friendly overtures had turned into bitterness and his Pakistani counterpart now had an enemy status for him. Referring to Nawaz Sharif’s condemnable speech in UNGA, Modi said “those who talked to fight against India for thousand years have gone into oblivion. Today’s ruler of Pakistan read speeches written by terrorists and sing song for Kashmir. As such the world does not expect anything from them.”
Second, he differentiated between the rulers of Pakistan, civilians, and the military. As such it was important for him to reach out to the Pakistani people, like what he did in his Independence Day speech for the people of Balochistan. “I want to speak directly to people of Pakistan. When your rulers can’t manage Pakistan illegally occupied Kashmir, East Pakistan which is now Bangladesh, Sindh, Pashtun, and Balochistan, they talk of Kashmir to mislead you. First, learn to manage what you have. Both countries had become independent at the same time and Pakistani people, whose ancestors were once Indians should ponder, why India today exports software and Pakistan exports terrorism.”
It is important to note that before leaving for Kozhikode in the afternoon, Modi had held a meeting of three armed forces chiefs at his New Delhi residence to review the situation and formulate the strategy. His today’s meeting with them and presence at war room two days ago and a series of other strategy meetings indicate that he was weighing all possible options, military or otherwise. His Kozhikode address gave a sense that he was not rushing into an emotive decision but was considering his options as a hard-boiled pragmatist even if it takes a beating on his pre-2014 image of a strong and decisive leader who would decimate Pakistan for its misadventures.
He also had a message for the world community – whenever there is a terror attack in any part of the world either the terrorist originates from Pakistan or like Osama bin Laden takes refuge there.
It is now more than clear how External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj would take on Pakistan when she speaks at UNGA on Monday.
What was surprising though and PM Modi and the BJP should and ponder as to why characteristic ‘Modi Modi’ chants were not heard in Kozhikode.