We should thank our lucky stars that Lance Naik Sushma Swaraj, kukri in hand and a battle-cry in her throat that would thaw much of Siachen, didn’t rush to cross the Line of Control (LoC) dividing India and Pakistan and come home by the evening announcing to Mr Swaraj, “Honey, I’m home with ten heads of Pakistani soldiers. Should I make some tea?”
Sushma-ji, like her role model Kavita-ji of Surf detergent fame, may have radical ideas about how to fight germful enemies, but her Devi Chamunda incarnation has, one must admit, wonderful therapeutic qualities.
The beheading of an Indian soldier manning the LoC has invoked extremely strong reactions from the Indian media that would have not been the case were the soldier “merely” killed. But the news of a mutilated body – and a decapitated one – saw newspapers and news television fall over each other to come up with a proper, hyperactive response. And fresh out of “Hang the rapists” mode, the nation via its gladiatorial spokespersons in the media would have invented Sushma Swaraj if she hadn’t existed. The army chief, Bikram Singh, was sober and sounded in command when he said that “India reserves its right to retaliate at the time and place of its choice”, and he expected commanders on the Indian side to be “aggressive and offensive”, adding that any response to the Pakistani action of hostility would have to be “the decision of the government”.
Considering that Singh is in a better position to suggest what kind of retaliation India should launch against Pakistan for decapitating one of our soldiers – as well as being probably better suited to any actual execution of action – it was a bit surprising to find Sushma-ji insist that that “if (the slain soldier’s) head could not be brought back, we should get at least ten heads from their side”. (Going by the internecine war going on within Pakistan, getting a dozen heads of Pakistanis from fellow Pakistani-hating Pakistanis shouldn’t be a problem.)
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took a Bikram Singh-line when, on Tuesday addressing an Army Day gathering in the capital, he said that “after this barbaric act, there cannot be business as usual (with Pakistan)”. In fact, when poked by reporters who wanted a more “Sushma Swaraj” kind of reaction – not only because journos are perpetually engaged in a “Who can be more patriotic?” contest among themselves, but also because bombastic statements make great headlines – Manmohanji replied that India would “keep on trying” despite Pakistan being “in a denial mode” (reporter’s words, not the Prime Minister’s).
But seeking a realistic retaliation and one that makes a real dent for the dastardly hostile act committed by “the enemy” is not, in the catchphrase of a news anchor-performer, “what the nation wants to know”. The nation wants to hear something gratifying and quick. What matters is intent. Who’s going to follow up on the action or lack of it?
So we have boy scouts from the Shiv Sena invading the pitch of the Indian Hockey League demanding that Pakistani players not be allowed to play in the tournament. (The players were subsequently sent home.) But even these usually colourful “Har Har Mahadev!” chaps were left lagging when Swaraj demanded her “Paki heads!” It was a smart demand since she had uttered what even hawkish Jai Hind-ers hollering for their gun and horse hadn’t thought of saying out loud: HEADS! And not even the traditional cattle-prodders, the media, had uttered it: HEADS!
But if you take a look at letters and comments written by readers in newspaper and television channel websites, you’ll immediately know who Sushmaji’s riffing with: the janta, who like her, is the armchair soldier seeking revenge and honour while braving the possibility of being wounded grievously by counter-opinions.
Take Mr K Ganesan of Gurgaon. His response on the DNA website to the paper’s news report “Indian Army will respond immediately if provoked: Gen Bikram Singh on LoC attack” (January 14) is pretty much inspired by Devi Chamunda: “It is high time that the silly neibhour (sic) needs to be taught a tough lesson similar to 1971. As it is more than four decades the bastards deserves a kick on their ball (sic). Pak should be devided (sic) into more than two pieces so that their collective strength is disintergrated (sic) and India’s prow (sic) is proved to them.”
Responding to a rational and firm Hindu editorial (Stop baying for blood, January 16), Mr NSV Menon, a reader with better spelling abilities than the afore-mentioned Mr Ganesan, wrote: “A very timid editorial showing no strong backbone. No fun in reciting mantra on (sic) a donkey’s ear. Indeed it is time to act on our choice of place and time. Yes we may take some hit but we can change the Geography of Pakistan, Let us act.”
For such folks, and there are plenty of them, Swaraj’s clamouring for “at least ten heads” is music to the ears. The pacifists and peaceniks and the Aman ki Asha brigade may be appalled and worried that someone somewhere, who actually has a say in making Pakistani troop decapitation official Indian Army policy, will be goaded by Sushmaji’s Chamunda call into action.
But the fact of the matter is like the Ganesans and the Menons stirring their teaspoons in the teacup with extra vigour and dreaming up revenge, Sushmaji was also publicly venting. What she did – following it up with a rap on the government’s knuckles for the Prime Minister taking so long to react – was play shrink to the nation. For a nominal fee of support for her beleaguered party, of course.
It may be recalled, though, that this beleaguered party of hers was the same party which, as the ruling party in 1999, responded to the nation’s demands and emotions by releasing Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh – who was in prison in Dasna Jail in Ghaziabad for kidnapping tourists in Kashmir in 1994 – in exchange of hostages held by hijackers of the IC-814 Indian Airlines plane.
Sheikh went on to kill American Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. Funnily enough, Pearl was also beheaded. But let’s not remind an agitated nation finding comfort in the words of Chamunda Swaraj all that, shall we?
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