Saturday, February 21, 2015

Some thoughts on the "terror boat" incident

The "terror boat" incident has brought about some very "interesting" reporting from the media and reactions all around. Here are some of my thoughts.

1) It is now abundantly clear, that a large and more importantly an influential section of India's media is opposed to this government at a very basic ideological level. Hence, communicating events in an even handed, objective manner from the government becomes crucial. The very semblance or suggestion of the government (and more particularly this government)  taking any credit, due or undue, (which I think is the basic issue in the terror boat controversy) will be questioned by sections of the media and will also be piggy backed by the opposition.
In light of this, it is imperative that the government and the armed forces must ensure that all agencies involved speak in a consistent manner. Let complete investigations be done - before taking credits or apportioning blames. The downside of the suggestion that the government is trying to get political mileage from military incidents - in terms of adverse press and consequential fire fighting is not worth the risk of making premature, self congratulatory assertions, which are hard to prove.

2) Irrespective of one's political leanings, I think it is a fairly safe assumption to say, that for large sections of India's population - India's armed forces remain the most credible and trustworthy institution of the Indian state. For some - still a substantial proportion, India's military goes beyond just the credible and trustworthy tag - it is a positively "sacred" symbol. And so, it is a rude shock to such people - when pointed questions are asked of the armed forces by India's intellectually "liberal" parts of the media. Many of us look at strategic affairs with a very binary mindset : namely "us (India, India's military)" vs "them (the enemy, Pakistani terrorists or Pakistan)". For this mindset it hard to even believe that it is indeed just intellectual curiosity and pursuit of the truth and not some sinister design behind sections of the media's "investigations" into incidents such as the "terror boat". Seeing India's media people speaking on Pakistani news channels discussing military incidents is for some - crossing a line when it comes to strategic affairs. (Incidentally - I have never understood the purpose of calling Pakistani ex-military folks on The News Hour and having arguments and scoring points either).
This is a very basic difference in world view - which is not easy to reconcile with. To see one's sacredly held institution or belief be questioned is very difficult to take and we know that very well know. It is also important to understand that for some - nothing - and in this case - the government and more specifically the military is not a holy cow and hence will face scrutiny. There are indeed some areas where people will find it easier to see questions related to the armed forces being raised such as : questions on meritocracy or indeed when it comes to issues raised on possible corruption in arms related deals. People would prefer however if media spends more time campaigning for the rights of soldiers such as one rank, one pension etc, but questioning military incidents and operations is harder to digest to quite a lot of people.
Having said all this - we all do realize that questions will be asked - some out of a duty towards truth, and some perhaps out of sheer antipathy towards the present government. It is also true that in all likelihood the questioners are not anti-national, and any advantage or debating points gained by the other side is merely a collateral damage in the pursuit of truth. Every citizen has their own judgement of whom to give their benefit of doubt. And so - while the government and the armed forces will do well to communicate much better in future incidents, I am of the opinion that - giving the benefit of the doubt to our professional armed forces is a very good idea - for they are keeping the "Idea of India" alive far more than anyone else. 

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