Since time immemorial, dictators have viewed their deeds like corrupt businessmen have viewed their stashed money: looking for any opportunity to convert black into white. If there’s one common trait among dictators, it is that they hate being labelled so. A few years into their iron rule and they’re already itching to tell the world how they are not really the despots and tyrants their countrymen and the world at large takes them to be, how they have always advocated peace and justice, and how they’d like nothing better than to hold an election as soon as possible. They spend an extraordinary amount of time, resources, and contacts to hunt for ways and means by which they can put this remarkable spin across to the listening and watching world.
Pervez Musharraf is no exception.
He is currently on his (umpteenth) visit to the country – which he publicly displays a statesman-like ambivalence to but privately hates – India. The land of his birth, that forever leaves no stone unturned so her prodigal son might return again and again, armed with a multiple-entry visa and a sturdy vase-adorned podium to speak from.
Strutting about celebrity-lit banquet halls he attends one-on-ones and conclaves and Leadership Summits. Neither is he a leader, nor did he manage to capture the summit. Oh, it was just a hill, not a summit, he has made himself believe. He is, of course, the architect of the Kargil war, an operation which he recently told Tim “Outsider” Sebastian, was “a military victory turned into a political defeat”. He said it with a face as straight as his intentions never have been. Kissinger would have been proud.
Yes, nations go to war. It is an unfortunate fact of life and human history. And although the warring nations always present what they feel are reasons for going to war, reasons that they feel justify the killing of thousands and destruction of life and property, the Kargil war in my mind remains an exception. What were the reasons? India didn’t have any, simply because it didn’t start the war. This is not just me saying this, but a fact entirely accepted by the world including the eulogised arbitrators of peace and bonhomie – the Americans.
That we give time and tonsils to Mr Musharraf is, to my mind, an atrocity greater than that two-month war itself. Only in this country does one find the martyrs and the perpetrators of the war both celebrated. This is akin to the Vietnamese remembering their dead while at the same time inviting Kissinger and showering him with warmth and friendliness. It is worth checking up on whether a Vietnamese media house ever held a leadership summit and called the cigar-voiced war-criminal over to the land he painted red with Agent Orange.
Dictators love to dictate. All they need is an eager line of men, pens poised on notepads, waiting to catch every word, every phrase of wisdom. And India obliges. So, incidentally, does the man – “We need to resolve the long-standing disputes between India and Pakistan because these are the causes of hatred, causes of conflict and the wars”. (HT Leadership Summit, November 17, 2012). There’s more. “It is high time we open our eyes to reality…We need to bury the hatchet”. Wait – not quite done yet. “Compromise should come from the bigger party. India should have a big heart because it is the bigger country.”
He is dead right on the last point. After all, what has India ever done but compromise? It is in our nature, don’t you know! The very fact that we call you year-in-year-out is the spoiler that should have alerted you into avoiding making that statement. But you took it as a given and went on to collect fond memories and iPhone pics and Summit memorabilia, and now, just for you, let us arrange the ceremonial one-day tour, of raj-ghats and memorials and mausoleums. Go meet the men who we let down ourselves. Shower them with petals.
Show him. Show him instead the graves and tombstones of those who died because of the needless and silly war that he planned, monitored and executed, the war he still thinks he won, but lost politically. But no, that’ll be one compromise too many. His feelings may be hurt. He may threaten never to attend a summit or a conference in India again.
Five hundred and twenty seven Indians and 3,000 Pakistanis died in that ego-inflicted conflict, men in the prime of their lives, men who are remembered – if no longer by their countrymen – at least by their grieving families. The man who is directly responsible for their deaths roams celebrity circuits and narrow alleyways of Daryaganj to a kind of gawk-and-felicitation Major Vikram Batra never could live to acknowledge. But Mr Musharraf acknowledges it. We have forgiven him, and in order to look decent in god knows whose eyes, we condemn, instead, his country and her businessmen and players and singers. What show of strength: Ban the qawwal but bow to the conquistador!
There is another aspect to this story, one that is often ignored.
The media, print and electronic alike, is not called a watchdog for nothing. It watches keenly every move of the tyrant, its sensitive ears perk up the moment it hears a suspect sound. But there is another among the species and it is called the lapdog. The lapdog, unlike the watchdog, watches keenly every move of its master, its sensitive ears perk up only for the master’s calling-whistle.
That we unabashedly invite and fete the likes of Pervez Musharraf and Henry Kissinger and George Bush, that we perk up our ears in order to hear what they have to say, perhaps stems from the fact that our government thinks nothing of the gratuitous conduct and war-crimes of these men in the first place. As Carl Jung once said, “Man will get used to anything, if only he reaches an appropriate degree of submission”.