A damaged CRPF vehicle after the Pulwama terror attack | File photo: PTI
A damaged CRPF vehicle after the Pulwama terror attack | File photo: PTI
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The Pulwama terror attack has exposed a gaping hole in the liberal conscience: the lack of a cogent view on national security.

The result is for everyone to see. Any such incident catches liberals on the wrong foot. We readily condemn any such attack. We ritually, and these days hastily, pay homage to those who died. If the dead are from the security forces, we have learnt to call them ‘martyrs’. We wish a speedy recovery to those injured. And after that, we don’t quite know what to say.

We know what is not to be done. Warmongering is obviously no solution. We point out, rightly so, that any knee-jerk reaction would be counterproductive. No doubt, an armed offensive by itself is not the most effective solution. We are quick to remind that the problem is not just external. Outsiders would not be able to do very much if there was no domestic support for the cause that the terrorists espouse. Clearly, it is not just a law and order problem. And, needless to say, targeting of our own citizens, mostly minorities, would only compound the problem.

This is all fine. The question is: what, then, is to be done?

Also read: To war or not to war with Pakistan: Strategy, not public mood, should drive Modi govt

Our answer is usually placed in a time horizon called ‘the last instance’. We say, again rightly so, that in the last instance, Kashmir is a political problem that can only have a political solution. In the last instance, you have to address the deep alienation affecting the population in the Valley. And this is not possible without demilitarisation of Jammu and Kashmir and beginning of a genuine democratic process. We have all the good answers, in the last instance.

But, what about this instance? What about all the instances before the last one? The trouble is that most of us live most of our lives in those in-between instances. And this response does not equip us to deal with real life questions that we face.

Take the Pulwama attack, for instance. More than 40 lives lost. These were no bystanders, but security personnel, belonging to the most used and abused but least celebrated of our security forces —the CRPF — going for high-risk duty. This was not due to any natural calamity, but due to a planned terror attack. This was not the handiwork of a lone out-of-his-mind terrorist. Clearly, he received logistic and intelligence support from outside. And, to top it all, a terror group operating from across the border owned up the act. The Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) has a free run in Pakistan and is known to play to the tune of Pakistan’s ‘deep state’, the army’s GHQ and the ISI.

How should we respond to it, here and now? To this, the peaceniks have no cogent answer. Not to put too fine a point on it: when it comes to national security, we live in denial.

Also read: After Pulwama, another ‘one off’ surgical strike will be a strategic mistake

This denial comes from two sources.

One, our post-Independence liberal elite feels awkward about nationalism. Like the European elite, we have started associating nationalism with negativity, jingoism and ethnic supremacists. In doing so, we have cut ourselves off from the rich and inclusivist legacy of Indian nationalism. We want to live in a modern nation-state without caring for our nationhood.

Two, we all partake in civilised hypocrisy: in liberal circles, it is not politically correct to discuss unpleasant matters like defence. At the butcher’s shop, we politely look away after ordering minced meat. We all wish to be protected. We want better policing, better law and order, and more secure borders. But we don’t want to discuss security.

This denial results in political schizophrenia or a perverse division of political labour: the BJP-led government is in charge of the security of our borders, while we take charge of human rights. The flip side of this division of labour is that Right-wing hawks, if not amateurish TV studio gladiators, have captured popular imagination on national security.

This is not new. Right from Nehru’s naiveté and the Communists’ silence in the face of Chinese aggression, the Left-liberals have had no defence doctrine of their own. No wonder, at a moment like Pulwama, they are on the defensive. Their condemnation of terror attack and condolences to the victims appear suspect. Their suggestions seem woolly or beside the point. In the wild world of political rhetoric, it opens them to false but powerful allegations of being unpatriotic.

Also read: Open to probe, but will retaliate if India attacks: Pakistan PM Imran Khan on Pulwama

Pulwama can be the starting point of making amends for this historic mistake. There is no shortage of sensible and knowledgeable defence experts in the country, including those who have served in the armed forces. Some of the sanest advice and analysis over the last week has come from those who have themselves donned the uniform. But their view does not become the dominant common sense, as it is not part of a larger political agenda.

Let us begin by acknowledging that no self-respecting nation-state can sit quietly in the face of such a provocation. The government can and should find an effective way of inflicting serious diplomatic, economic and military cost to the JeM and its handlers in the Pakistani establishment. Any collateral damage and the risk of escalation into an open war must be avoided. When and how it should be done is not for us to opine. Clearly, any haste and need for theatrical visibility would reduce the effectiveness of the response.

Let this response to Pulwama be the starting point of a fuller and serious engagement with a national security doctrine.  While everyone talks about Pakistan, we need to think hard about the more serious long-term security challenges — especially from China. The size and resources of our armed forces need to be aligned with the requirement of India’s security challenges in the 21st century. And we need to refurbish the entire security apparatus to respond to the internal security challenges in a professional and humane manner. That can provide us with the space to resolve the Kashmir problem and Maoist insurgencies within a democratic frame.

The author is the National President of Swaraj India.

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16 Comments Share Your Views


  1. Sir, as usual you have come out with some lucid prose, diagnosed the dilemma of Indian liberals very succinctly but never made an honest attempt to break away from it. After all those standard responses from one and all, the government of the day has given a definite response by way of IAF hitting at terrorist targets in POK, which was followed by Pakistans’s response through its Air Force, India’s counter and finally return of the captured IAF fighter pilot. In the domestic front there was some undesirable incidents against Kashmiri students and now the liberals strike back questioning whether at all IAF struck or dropped missiles in some unknown jungle., even after IAF chief’s confirmation that our planes did hit the target. The issue you have skirted is whether Govt. of the day was right in their response this time or should have stopped at rhetoric and done nothing like we did after Mumbai attack. Then the target was civilians and Govt had all justification to retaliate, but did nothing. Liberals were comfortable then that nothing further happened, we paradises ourselves no end for our legendary tolerance that we do nothing even if some one hit us in our home. Sir, what is your opinion on these two contrasting response. If response now is not to your liking, say it loud and clear or if you approve of it, say it unambiguously. As usual you have no answer or you don’t want to answer and that is the true dilemma of our liberals; criticise or silence. That precisely the reason why sometimes in different contexts they are seen as hypocrites or worse, devoid of any nationalist feelings. Thanks.

  2. I surprised to see, a sane man like Mr. Yadav, is is so hard on Liberals. Agreed that Liberals are elitist and they are hypocritical. They do not have any solution to offer for Kashmir problem. But when did they say that they have a ready made solution? Why cry on liberals who neither have any power nor influence to steer the policy on Kashmir. They , at present, are in miserable minority and are being hounded by all including the sensible Mr. Yadav. What is your solution? Liberals are perfectly Ok with the one you offered . To quote from your article

    “The government can and should find an effective way of inflicting serious diplomatic, economic and military cost to the JeM and its handlers in the Pakistani establishment. Any collateral damage and the risk of escalation into an open war must be avoided. When and how it should be done is not for us to opine. Clearly, any haste and need for theatrical visibility would reduce the effectiveness of the response.”

    Can you show me one Liberal who disagreed with your solution. Even Liberals were giving the same solution. The solution suggested contains a caveat for every sentence. Honestly it is desirable to follow your solution. It should be done by the government of the day. I fail to understand why are you blaming the so called Liberals for the action to be taken?

    My own feeling is that Kashmir problem is designed by the British for not having a solution. This problem will fester. Further , Kashmir being a contiguous part of india ( unlike Bangladesh in case of Pakistan) we will never ever leave Kashmir . Come what may. Lakhs of crores will be spent thousands get martyred, Kashmir will not be given. that is for sure.

    In this process what liberals think or what conservatives opine is irrelevant.

  3. Meaningless faff, and a holier than thou attitude comes thru. It seems like just an attempt to show himself different from some ‘straw man’ variety of left-lib the author creates. Perhaps has some people in mind whom he does not agree/like.

    After all the initial huffing and puffing, the author has this to say “The government can and should find an effective way of inflicting serious diplomatic, economic and military cost to the JeM and its handlers in the Pakistani establishment. Any collateral damage and the risk of escalation into an open war must be avoided. ” – not seeing the obvious oxymoronish implications of the two sentences above!

    And what 21st century nation state and its challenges is the author trying to talk of where nations can protect themselves from each other by beefing up their military more than the other? A strategy that has failed from the beginning of history… !!!

    We might not have answers to the complex problems of today. Admitting this is a better start, than trying to build a ‘unique’ image for oneself so that one gets opinion space on televisions etc. by just saying ‘new’ sounding, but hollow stuff.

  4. Nice article. India needs to get its economic house in order and be in a position to challenge China and inflict economic pain. Then, China’s position will change. The importance of getting our economic might right cannot be overstated. Then, get our defence procurement in order and expedite necessary purchase. While no body wants a full-fledged war, showing that we are ready to wage one would be a beginning.

  5. Which Left-Lib the author is attacking..? It seems the author of the article does not want to be branded Left-Lib and is using empty rhetoric to avoid this branding. Who sits back and says, yes this too shall pass..? Right, Left, Center and every one. Who thinks with some monetary compensation, we can get over the lives of this one too..? Right, Left, Center and everyone.. So what is the provocation for the author to put it on Left-Lib..? The only reason could be that he wanted to wriggle out of his branding and using a bogey strawman to beat.

    Finally, after all the empty rhetoric and ‘condemnation of Left-Lib, author says he has nothing to opine about next steps on how to punish JeM. Then why this article..?

    The author is a Left-Lib. Whatever he tries flogging the self, he cannot escape that branding.

  6. Very sane article. One problem which most commentators do not want to address is – the massive Indian population and one that is growing by the day -resulting in compulsory diversion of national resources to provide various free/subsidised “facilities” to India’s mammoth army of poor/low-income people. There is no need to be apologetic. India needs a small population, with large purchasing power and not dependent on Govt provisions. The Govt can then deploy its resources to critical R&D for scientific research in defence, high tech weaponry, security of country etc. And needless to say, “Choto Parivar, Sukhi Parivar”.

  7. the pulwama attack qualifies as an ACT of WAR and should be treated as such and all preliminaries before actual combat must be initiated. . to begin with the following should be considered:-
    _ elections to be held immediately and an all party govt. formed led by the party which forms the govt.
    _a WAR CABINET be established.
    ._all deficiencies of arms and weapons should be made up within the next 6 months irrespective of procurement procedures and availability of funds under supervision of the war cabinet headed by the most go-ahead civilian industrialist available acting in the nature of a Czar.
    _a joint planning committee under a CHIEF of DEFENCE STAFF
    ( ARMY) should be formed at once responsible to the WAR CABINET only .
    _ etc etc

  8. It’s not only problem with liberals. It’s problem with whole nation. After every incident we show our outrage, pour our sympathy with the slain and forget till another incident occurs.
    In this charged atmosphere with the tentacles of sedition law hanging on their heads no sane thinking person can ask simple questions like is it not a Security lapse? Do I have the courage to ask ‘instead of blaming Pakistan let’s try to analyse why in such a secured region such an event is planned and executed so precisely?’
    Unfortunately we all are in denial mode. Instead of learning from past incidents and preparing ourselves for the next we are into blame games and one up man ship. Every political leader is only trying to figure out how to get maximum advantage from this incident.

  9. Being politically correct always is not a good option nowadays and so called liberals get exposed again and again during such incidents which are far more than what other side can cope with resulting in free run for right wing zealots.

  10. Puhleeez, Yogendrabhai … Duniya ke sab paap hamare sir par mat daaliye. The tough guys are in charge, they should keep the country safe. The liberals have coffee in Khan Market, attend book festivals, hold candlelight vigils, lots of harmless stuff. They don’t lynch people, do the sort of vicious trolling senior journalists are being subjected to in the last few days. Let the debate be firm, focused, businesslike.

  11. I like the title of this article. And it’s true! The opposition parties are stunned into inaction, and the “patriots” are running away with the ball, scoring goals as if nothing sad or shocking has happened — alignment in Maharashtra, alignment in Tamil Nadu, 3000 crores here, 2000 crores there, new clothes here, new clothes there — the works !!

    The liberals (all opposition parties) should come out of the shock and start asking BJP the one question: how did the “intelligence failure” happen,
    A) so close to the elections
    B) so close to Afzal Guru’s death anniversary??? The second point alone should have made the intelligence agencies extra alert.

  12. INAUDIBILITY SYNDROME OF LIBERALS: More than three decades ago in 1990, Harsh Sethi, a prominent human rights activist, wrote in the Patriot, an English daily from New Delhi: “The human rights groups ‘bend over backwards’ to prove their radicalism. And this radicalism seems to consist of a ‘gleeful and malicious’ state-bashing, of ‘proving’ that the law and order machinery is not only excessively violent but is invariably biased against the minorities and the weak; that the social base of Hindu communalism has grown to alarming proportions; that terrorist violence is almost excusable in the face of ‘State terrorism’, and so on….. ” Rarely do the human rights groups realise the faith this society had reposed in them. Unlike the official media, the politicians and the administration, the human rights groups were seen as courageous guardians of public morality. It is this faith that had given them their power, quite out of proportion to their numbers. But if they too are to be seen as ‘no different from the rest’, then we are indeed in for difficult times. Their pride in a belief that such reports create confidence in the victim groups and communities that at least someone cares, remains at best a partial argument.
    “The purpose of a human rights report cannot be to merely contribute footnotes to history. It must, to be efficacious, communicate with wider sections in society so as to facilitate the emergence of a genuine public discourse on the issues that it contends with…”


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