Pulwama and Balakot are tailor-made for wearing our patriotism on our sleeves, and actor-turned-BJP MP Major Tiwari did just that. He showed up in military fatigues as he flagged off a BJP bike rally in his North East Delhi constituency this weekend.
The leading actor of Bhojpuri hit movie Daroga Babu I Love You now seems to want to star in his own make-believe film ‘Fauji Bhai I Love You’.
The opposition cried foul, saying he was trying to cash in on Pulwama for votes. “Shameless. Shameless. Shameless,” tweeted Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien. “BJP-Modi-Shah insulting and politicizing our jawans. And then giving lectures on patriotism. Low life.”
Since then, Manoj Tiwari has been going around protesting that this was not an “insult”. He wore the uniform to express solidarity with the Indian Army. “By this logic, if I wear a Nehru jacket tomorrow, will it be an insult to Jawaharlal Nehru?”
Actually, that question would not even arise because it would just be called a Modi vest. But that’s another story.
What’s ironic is that while the government is trying to turn every question about its military action into an attack on the valour of the armed forces, some of its own foot soldiers have reduced the armed forces to cut-outs in fancy dress to drum up vote.
And, Manoj Tiwari is far from being the only person walking around these days paying lip service to the armed forces. For example, there was the TV9 anchor who thought it would be a splendid tribute to the armed forces by reporting in military fatigues and brandishing a toy gun. And not to be outdone by Indians, Pakistani anchors read the news in military uniforms, “their make-up intact”, writes Salil Tripathi in Caravan, as if enacting “childhood fantasies of being soldiers”.
This picture is not from a fancy dress competition. He is a news anchor reporting about the surgical strikes conducted by India. Dreading what he’d wear if he had to report about the early men. #SurgicalStrike2 pic.twitter.com/42wN4Flfa2
— Jella Harsha Sai (@Harsha_Jella) February 26, 2019
The josh might or might not be high but these cardboard warriors are certainly high on josh. It’s hardly surprising that performance patriotism, which is the rage these days, will turn something like the Pulwama attack and the Balakot IAF strike into a costume play where they get to be the stars. This has everything to do with votes and grabbing eyeballs and very little to do with true patriotism, or even the armed forces.
The armed forces are just a means to an end, whether it’s B.S. Yeddyurappa’s unexpectedly honest comment that India’s “preemptive” strikes on terror camps would help the BJP win 22 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka or Manoj Tiwari’s armyman histrionics.
True love for the armed forces would mean thinking deeply about their OROP pension grievances. It would mean not shying away from the hard questions about whether 68 per cent of the Army’s equipment is so old that it is officially considered “vintage”, according to The New York Times. The bravado of an ageing MiG-21 taking on an F-16 might sound romantically heroic, but why is India ever an underdog in a dogfight with its much smaller neighbour. But asking these questions makes one a ‘Deshdrohi’ (coincidentally another Manoj Tiwari film).
According to defence analyst Brigadier (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal, the Army is struggling with “critical hollowness” when it comes to being combat-ready. It is plagued with equipment shortage and slow pace of modernisation. There are enormous delays in acquiring everything from assault rifles to high-end anti-aircraft missile systems. It took nine years before the government finalised a contract for 1.86 lakh bulletproof jackets the Army urgently needed. In 2016, documents from a whistleblower revealed soldiers in Siachen might have got inferior quality snow-suits from a Sri Lankan company.
But instead of addressing what the Army really needs, it’s so much easier to just dress up in a military uniform and play toy soldiers for votes.
Politicians are not the only ones trying to cash in on Pulwama. Even while IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was still in Pakistan’s custody, Bollywood producers, salivating over the success of Uri: The Surgical Strike, were falling all over each other to reserve film titles like ‘Pulwama: The Deadly Attack’ or ‘Pulwama Attack versus Surgical Strikes 2.0’, reported Huffington Post. Titles like ‘Balakot’ and ‘Pulwama’ were long gone. ‘Josh’ and ‘How’s the Josh’ were already confirmed. As Usha Uthup sang in another context, “Uri uri baba, uri uri baba… kya bura kiya”.
Not to be outdone by Bollywood and politicians, designers are now offering us the post-Pulwama sari. Surat traders have come up with saris that have soldiers, helicopters and bombs, depicting the outrage over the Pulwama attack. And just to leave no one in doubt about who is in charge, the pallus have an image of Narendra Modi. One trader told The Times of India that he had received orders for thousands of such saris. Unfortunately, in this age of copy-paste patriotism, one of the designs had mistakenly put American soldiers on the shuddh desi sari.
Surat traders design saris depicting outrage over Pulwama Attack. But uses US Soldiers instead of Indian Soldiers🤦♂️ pic.twitter.com/UNyoZ3lg1k
— Zoo Bear (@zoo_bear) March 2, 2019
Patriotism clearly is something that has to be measured rather than felt. And thus, we can wrap ourselves in six yards of synthetic patriotism to prove our desh bhakti even as so many of us troll the widow of a CRPF jawan killed in Pulwama for daring to say, “As a teacher and a student of history, I know war can’t bring any permanent solution. A wife loses her husband, a mother loses her son, a daughter loses her father”. For this, she was called “cowardly” and “self-centred”.
Instead of standing up for her, our cardboard warriors walk around playing make-believe soldiers. What the likes of Manoj Tiwari are really trying to prove is that they too have a 56-inch chest. But, it just camouflages an emptiness within.
Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.