It is quite possible that our ruling establishment may be able to persuade Washington not to make too much of the alleged Indian plot to kill a United States citizen, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on American soil. After all, the Americans have, for multiple reasons, put all their eggs in the Modi basket. In fact, Prime Minister Modi seems to be in the totally envious position of being the preferred choice of both Washington and Moscow for leadership in India – though for different reasons.
This convergence of transactional calculations between Moscow and Washington may be found enormously satisfactory by the geopolitical elements of the ruling class in New Delhi; but, it would be comforting to believe that saner and sober citizens are finally coming to understand the enormous damage that the Modi persona has inflicted on the Indian state.
The global community may choose to take at face value our official assertion that assassinations and hit jobs are not “our policy” but vast sections of Indian society have experienced for themselves the liberties our ruling coterie has taken with norms and laws – all the while maintaining the façade of observed legalities.
These Hardeep Singh Nijjar/Pannun capers can only be understood as wages of “56-inch-ism.” Nine years ago, our otherwise surefooted strategic establishment fell for the mythology that had been crafted by the Modi crowd for capturing political power: that a weak and timid political leadership [exemplified by the polite and soft-spoken Dr. Manmohan Singh] had held India back from achieving its potential for greatness. After decades, India now had a prime minister who was flaunting his physical agility and swagger as a metaphor for national power and strength.
The middle classes, especially those with a son or a daughter in North America, were the most eager suckers for this bravado. The tall talk of “sorting” out Pakistan or looking China straight in the eye was catnip to the masses. Big business, too, went along because this bluster meant India having to purchase or build more and more weapon systems. War-mongering has always been good for businessmen. Of course, the generals and admirals were grinning from ear to ear too; here at last was a prime minister who understood the business of conflicts and wars.
But the most cunning subscribers of this “56-inch-ism” were the overlords of the security establishment. These shadowy men quickly sized up our new saviour, decoded his insecurities and worked on his megalomania; they understood the great man’s need for “enemies” to be tamed and vanquished. These “security- wallahs” produced a whole roster of enemies: urban naxals, “tukde tukde gangs,” the Kashmiris, the minorities, the farmers, the terrorists, the subversives, etc., to be conquered and eliminated as a “threat” to “national security” and “unity” and “integrity.”
The higher the level of threat that these enemies were deemed to be capable of making against India and its greatest saviour, the greater were the powers granted to all those institutions and agencies which deal in the currency of violence and intimidation and coercion. An appropriately impressed judiciary went along with the security crowd’s definitions and interpretations of the needs of national security. The judiciary, at least at the lower levels, was even prepared to put anyone in jail who dared to mock or ridicule the prime minister. His “image” and “prestige” and “dignity” are now inextricably tied up with the defence and well-being of the realm.
The Nijjar/Pannun capers can be understood only in this demonology, crafted and scripted by cunning security managers. These crafty operatives felt enthused and empowered because their principal was equally adept at using the “enemies” conjured up by them to tickle the average Hindu’s sense of insecurity. Having tamed the Muslims into submission, it was only a matter of time before the Sikhs would get singled out as a source of new threats.
Of course, those who live in Punjab will laugh at the suggestion that the “Khalistanis” pose any kind of existential threat to India. There is no “Khalistani” constituency in Punjab. But the security managers know our political masters’ need for “enemies” and “threats,” and, by now, have become adept at weaving the Vishwaguru balderdash into their own empire-building schemes.
If Israel can go after its enemies beyond its borders, why can’t India, endowed as it is with decisive leadership, sort out those who dare to mock and challenge us from the safety of Canada or the United States? If American agents can take care of Iranian Commander Qassem Soleimani, we can at least finance a juggad to do in a Pannun. The political masters could not possibly object, as they knew how the Nijjar business was applauded in ‘nationalistic” quarters as India’s coming of age as a truly global player.
This over-reach was an inevitable downstream effect of the phony 56-inch-ism. We miscalculate and over-talk and over-sell our limited capacities and mediocre competence just because we can gather a howling crowd in Houston or New York we allow ourselves to dream global dreams – and feel unapologetically good about our new “stature.”
This Pannun business is a reminder of the damage that bogus political masters have inflicted on the well-being of all our national institutions. Unrelenting aggression against political rivals and foes has now corroded the judgment and wisdom of all those empowered savants whose duty it is to safeguard the core of our nation’s abiding interests from the excesses of the petty demagogue. No acche din for the Indian state.
Harish Khare is a former editor-in-chief of The Tribune.