Friday, October 21, 2016

Dubious parallel

Political belligerence may have a positive impact on limited audiences, but can also backfire in a larger context. The “chest thumping” over the 29 September surgical strikes had one kind of fall-out: now there is need to monitor the wider “reach” of the Prime Minister’s likening those strikes to what had once been hailed as flashes of military brilliance and audacity of the Israeli Defence Forces. It was to a gathering which included a number of Army veterans that Narendra Modi declared “earlier one heard about Israel doing such a thing, now the country has seen that the Indian Army is no less”. The observation would have drawn the expected applause, though military experts would contend those “strikes” did not match up with the operations in the Eastern Theatre in 1971 as the Army’s “showpiece essay” - on the ground those strikes have had only limited success.

The more important evaluation of Modi’s admittedly one-off comment would be how “Arab Street” reacts to a seemingly one-sided suggestion. There is a sizeable Indian population in the Arab world, their foreign-exchange remittances still count, and whether they will continue to be welcome by the local populace remains to be seen. And in the midst of some trying times, India’s diplomatic ties with the Gulf/Arab states have proved rewarding. India has struggled to maintain a fair balance between its old allies in Arab Street and new-found friend in Israel - that balance could now “tilt”. Despite Israel now having become a major supplier of advanced defence equipment, it must also be noted that the IDF has lost some of its “edge” in recent times - the raid at Entebbe and air operations in the Bekkaa Valley are of historic rather than contemporary military significance.

Of particular relevance to prevailing realities is the extent to which the unrest in Kashmir is influenced by the Prime Minister’s observation. For if the Indian forces can be bracketed with the Israelis, the stone-pelters would be prone to see themselves as conducting another Intifada, and the sustained effort to slam them as Pakistan-sponsored trouble-makers might not “stick”. The difference between terrorist/militant and “freedom-fighter” has always been nebulous in Kashmir.

It will become more complicated now to project the Indian Army as “secular” - the IDF was never required to maintain that kind of profile. India’s vast “minority” community was never thrilled when India warmed up to Israel, and Modi’s line could easily be interpreted as further evidence of the NDA government pursuing a “saffron” agenda. That will only fuel further doubts about the compatibility of the BJP-PDP tie-up in the state. The Hurriyat could well be chuckling in delight at Modi’s over-simplistic parallel.

The above is from the Editorial in The Statesman.

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