Indian elections and national security have a seemingly unpredictable relationship.
The defeat in the 1962 war with China and the victory in the 1971 war happened immediately after elections earlier in the year and can’t be used as gauges. However, the Sri Lanka fiasco and Bofors took a heavy toll on Rajiv Gandhi, wiping out his government in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections. The victory in the Kargil War propelled Atal Bihari Vajpayee to a victory in 1999. The 26/11 Mumbai attacks were undeniably a massive intelligence and security failure, and yet in state elections a few days later, the Congress trounced the BJP. Confused? So am I.
While overarching trends are difficult to make out, there are some allegories that bear repeating. Subramanian Swamy, for example, recalls how when he met Deng Xiaoping, and the latter confided to him words to the effect of “we expected India to break up when we defeated you in 1962, yet all it did was wipe out calls for separatism from Tamil Nadu and bound you together stronger”. If memory serves me right, Rajiv Gandhi said at a Congress Parliamentary Party meet in 1989 that “India is strong in victory, but it is even stronger in defeat.” For the reader’s ease, I shall refer to this phenomenon as the Deng-Rajiv principle.
Also read: As BJP & Congress fight over surgical strikes, India’s stand on national security is exposed
It’s a pity, then, that this great leader’s son, Rahul Gandhi preferred internalising superficially applied European social democrat paradigms and ignored his own father’s wisdom. What was his cardinal sin? India, like any pre-industrial state was, is, and possibly till a post-industrial phase, will be, a fiercely nationalistic country. This is not to say Indians don’t accept that their leaders make huge security goof ups, or their leaders shouldn’t be criticised for it, but rather that they believe there is a time and place for such criticism and wartime is not it.
This is where Pulwama and Balakot effectively turned out to be Rahul Gandhi’s proverbial Waterloo.
Assume for a minute that everything the detractors of the Balakot strikes and the air battle that followed said were true, that India missed its targets, and the Air Force did not perform well on that day or the next. The Deng-Rajiv principle dictated, that Rahul Gandhi stay quiet or express some form of support. Instead, he and his press minions went on a rampage calling everyone from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to the Air Force ‘liars’. A programme on the Congress politician-supported channel Tiranga TV went as far as to verbatim copy a Pakistan military-linked video regurgitating charges against an Italian journalist (who backed up the Indian version based on sources on the ground) simply to prove that India’s armed forces (and by extension, PM Modi) were incompetent.
It’s quite one thing to criticise your government, it’s another to end up echoing the official propaganda of your adversary, that too in a fiercely nationalist country, in wartime, on election eve.
While this is impossible to gauge, this is where the BJP’s “idea of India” as “a civilisational culture” with a deep connection to itself and its past, as yet unexplained by European ideas of a nation state, held true. If you want proof of this concept, look how well the Congress did in Punjab where Captain Amarinder Singh refused to question the effectiveness of military action and publicly congratulated the government and forces.
Also read: Research shows it makes sense for Narendra Modi & BJP to focus on national security in 2019
Nothing but anger against the Congress and its security PR strategy over Balakot strikes can explain the fact that the Congress has failed abysmally this election, gathering just 51 seats or seven more seats than its 2014 tally, at the time of writing.
There are two sides to this security coin. One is what has been discussed above, the fact that the Indian public is forgiving of security failures and does not like criticism at wartime (which it sees as borderline treason). But the other side of the coin (like in 1989) is anger against corruption in defence (which is equally seen as borderline treason). This is where Rahul Gandhi could have scored a victory over Modi with his “Chowkidar chor hai” campaign.
However, yet again, Rahul Gandhi has made the cardinal mistake of hurling allegations, without anything remotely resembling proof, not even circumstantial. This was compounded by a Supreme Court verdict, seen as exonerating the government, and the final disgrace of Rahul Gandhi having to apologise to the Supreme Court for misquoting it (never matter that he didn’t actually withdraw his allegations).
Also read: Rahul Gandhi’s Congress gets thumbs down, unlikely to cross three figures
While none of the above narratives seeks to attribute mono-causality, we must understand every bit adds up and, in this case, this is how the national security card played out. With the benefit of hindsight, we can assume (and in India, these things are always assumptions) that national security played a big role in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress’ corruption crusade never got off the ground and was seen as backfiring and alienating people. The party’s unintentional echoing of the Pakistani line on Balakot simply pushed that alienation past the point of no return.
Ultimately Rahul needs to decide what he wants to run, a European-esque NGO with internationally fashionable positions, or a political party in a nationalistic country. Till then, it is safe to say national security will always favour the BJP, unless Rahul Gandhi replaces his national security advisers.
The author is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @iyervval. Views are personal.
modi is a liar and corrupt person morally and intellectually…he has no integrity…no love for indians…he personally was involved in rafale scam as a middleman…and he allowed 50 crpf personnel to die in pulwama refusing them the airlift that they requested for…naturally he wanted them dead…he effectively murdered them for political gains and later lied about number of terrorists killed…of course through others…he kept quiet IAF kept quiet about how many had died…because nobody had died…except a few trees and empty buildings…
so rahul was correct in what he said…its indians who are brainwashed by lies spread by bjp it cell like postcard shankhnaad swarajyamag opindia etc…its their job to spread lies about modi bjp ‘s political opponents and critics and this job they do dutifully…even when it was exposed that modi followed on twitter who abuse women and muslims and they in turn said they were proud t o be followed by PM modi indians refused to come out of their stupour…so that way they deserved what they got and what they will get in next 5 years…
after that the 10 years of performances of mms congress coalition governments and modi bjp majority governments can be compared and people will see how india fell from the high pedestal of 2014 to the lowly 2024 situation…how modi made a laughing stock of india and indian media in the eyes of the world…and then modi shah bjp rss their it cell bhakts and indian and foreign supporters of modi will have nowhere to hide
Notice how the writer dismisses India as a backward, tribal, pre-industrial country. Never mind that India’s is the third largest and the fastest growing economy of the world, sends missions to Mars, has some of the biggest companies in the wold and is the world’s largest democracy. Nevwr mind that India is a 5000 year old civilization with a rich civilizational heritage. And Such dumb people dare call themselves intellectuals (though they would cancel the d in dy/dx). Such charlatans have been dealt a tight slap by this civilization today.
Lot of policies that congress has implemented are seen as anti majority or pro minority. Whether its their PM saying Muslims have the first rights over indias resources or RTE benefitting only minority aided schools. The dog fight of Abhinandan Vardaman made every indian realise that congress had not brought state of art aircraft and BJP getting Rafaele was an emergency decision least taken with bribes in mind. So whether Modi blindly supported Ambani junior in taking a hasty decision to benefit the airforce was conviniently forgotten. Congress open supports to tukde tulde gangs, JNU seperatist leaders and likes of Digvijay supporting Zakir naik or questioning Batla action or its endless scams like common wealth or 2G are not easily forgotten. Educated india understood that rahul or priyanka lacked the basic intelligence needed to rule and the advisors like Ahmed Patel or Digvijay were sold to minority appeasement, this was hindu india backlash to minority appeasement politics of Gandhi family.
You didn’t mention Rahul Gandhi’s support to the Tukde Tukde Gang. That also created doubt in the mind of common Indians
How come people sound so full of wisdom only during post-poll analysis? What was this guy doing before the polls? Also, attributing such a massive victory to just one cause (Balakot) is foolish.
Abhijit Iyer Mitra is refreshingly different from the usual writers. Probably being free from the baggage carried by the mainstream writers. I have got to know about his writing only recently and have since always look forward. This one was equally telling and to the point. The way opposition, all of them, were reacting to Balakot and Pulwama was childish. Surely there would be other follies. But this one was definitely one such.
I would take the liberty of re-articulating the headline: Congress must decide whether it wants to be a democratic political party in a politically enlightened India or hang on to historical coat-tails of one family.
Also, let Congress truly demonstrate what difference its NYAY can make to states it governs. Let Rahul Gandhi also demonstrate how he can help his mother to positively change the face of Rae Bareli, in addition to Wayanad.
A very partial – one will not say superficial – analysis of what is unquestionably a very big day in Indian politics. Undoubtedly, in the days ahead, we will see more thoughtful columns on what went right for the incumbent, so wrong for the challenger(s). Those inputs will help the incumbent make good use of its mandate. Pulwama and Balakot are by no means the defining issues that should guide governance for the next five years.
Ashok, I am afraid that you are biased yourself. I was initially against Modi. But when I saw or read or heard baseless allegations against Rafel, Balakote etc. I changed my stand and said to myself, I must vote for Modi, this time.
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