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June 2, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Saisuresh Sivaswamy

No amount of peace is worth ceding an inch of territory

An alternative headline to this piece could be 'Bus Karo, Yaar!', but it would have meant a trivialisation of what is clearly a national crisis: the Pak-aided infiltration into Indian territory, and Pakistan's own brazen denial of the same.

The question uppermost in the minds of reasonable Indians, at this browbeating of India is if Pakistan is a friend or foe. A friendly nation, given the Indo-Pak matrix, will not shoot down its fighter aircraft for no crime but crossing into its airspace, will not shoot down the pilot of the ill-fated aircraft who has ejected into its territory, nor will it hold another pilot captive -- unless there is a state of war between the two nations.

Now that the fumes from the famous bus ride have cleared in the shelling over Kargil and nearby areas, perhaps one should ask the question if India was yet again tricked into lowering its defences while the enemy was sneaking in its reinforcements. And since the answer to that cannot but be in the affirmative, it is clear that the great rewriters of Indian history to reflect 'true nationalist flavour', have forgotten the basis lesson that Indian history, whether of the Marxist kind or Swadeshi kind, holds out.

Which is that the invaders came into Indian territory whenever, and only through, the Himalayan passes are left unguarded.

The second lesson from Indian history is even more recent, hardly a generation ago when most of the leaders who strut about the corridors of power were thinking adults. Which is that a neighbour's hand of friendship should not beguile one into a sense of complacency. Nehru learnt that lesson the hard way in 1962, and the man who never tires of how Panditji himself foresaw prime ministerial material in him, Atal Bihari Vajpayee is in a similar situation today.

The Lahore Bus may have driven out from here but, in retrospect, it appears to have become Pakistan's Trojan Horse.

Luckily for India, the world has seen through the Pakistani game, which is the only reason that it has agreed to send its foreign minister to India for talks.

And this welcome change in international opinion, again, has little to do with the government's own initiative. What the world has done is to look at the situation through unbiased eyes, and concluded that India is clearly in the right in doing what it is doing: after all, it takes an enormous amount of self-restraint for a nation of one billion, headed by a hawkish party to boot which not so long ago flexed its nuclear muscle, to keep quiet over the downing of its fighter aircraft. The West cannot but see this restraint in terms of its own matrix, where such an incident would have led to the obliteration of the offending nation from the face of the earth.

So, even while appreciating the West for not being taken by Pakistani gobbledygook yet again, it is also sobering to realise that the oblique commending of the Indian position is an extension of the West's hypocrisy: in a similar, hostile situation, the responses of a poor nation cannot match its own.

But the Western double standards don't need new proof. Rather, what the Kargil misadventure has shown up is the hollowness of the secular lobby for whom peace with our western neighbour at any cost was a natural extension of their credo, only because Pakistan was a Muslim state. The flipside to this warped logic is that Indian Muslims, without exception, identify with Pakistan, something the secular proponents fail to see.

Peace with Pakistan, however welcome, can never become a reality, for the simple reason that Pakistan does not, will not ever, seek peace with India. There is nothing it would like more than see India humbled, and it is not just a matter of sporting encounter. The establishment across the border thrives on anti-India sentiment, to expect it to switch off is like asking for the slaughter of its golden goose.

The worst fallout from this border will be political, and the loser will inevitably be the BJP, which is facing a crucial election in five months' time. Wag The Dog syndrome has it that a beleaguered chief executive creates such flashpoints with an eye on popular rating, but reality for Vajpayee is vastly different.

The West may appreciate the tremendous self-restraint shown by India in the face of enormous provocation, but to expect the voting public to go with that one, and seal their approval with the ballot, is being a little too optimistic about the BJP, and a little too pessimistic about the voter's intelligence.

As the dead bodies pour in, and travel across the country, the grieving families' helpless anger, and the attendant media coverage which carries this live into Indian homes, the belief will mount that this is a government that is long on bravado and short on action. And, contrary to earlier estimates, the Kargil is all set to extend all the way till the eve of the general elections, the outcome of which should stun the BJP.

Is there anything the BJP can do to salvage the situation? Now that it has become clear that its poet-prime minister has allowed himself to be lulled into a state of inaction by the general euphoria over his bus ride, it needs more than mere declarations of "war-like" scenario to convince the masses of that this government has a clear-cut plan in mind other than organising a trail of dead bodies.

For starters, it can start by treating Pakistan as a hostile state, and not a friendly one, and admit that Bal Thackeray was all along right about its intentions. That we were fools to have been taken in by the Pakistanis' earnestness. That we don't need normalcy when our soldiers are being killed, aircraft shot down, population terrorised, sovereignty violated..

Before doing all that, however, it can make a beginning by muzzling its defence minister who seems intent on queering the pitch. Today he is promising the infiltrators safe passage, tomorrow he may agree to cede Kargil to Pakistan. Stop him before he does that.

Saisuresh Sivaswamy

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