With the country going into election mode against the backdrop of the Pulwama suicide bombing and the Balakot airstrike, national security, and by extension ‘nationalism’, will be an important issue at the hustings.
Unfortunately, for the Grand Old Party of India, the greater the salience this issue receives in the campaign, the more it seems to push the Congress on the backfoot.
This is a remarkable role reversal for a political party which spearheaded the Independence movement and defined post-Independence Indian nationalism as well our national security interests. For decades, the Congress Party epitomised nationalism and was seen as a defender of national security. Despite blunders, reverses and setbacks there was almost a sort of blind faith in the Congress being India’s best bet to uphold and protect the unity and integrity of the country.
No more. From being seen as the party which was a bulwark against fissiparous tendencies, to now when it is not just seen as taking an ambivalent stand on issues of national security, but worse, is seen to be standing with and supporting fringe elements that desire ‘Bharat ki barbadi’, it has been a huge fall.
There was a time when Pakistan, our neighbour from hell, dreaded the prospect of a Congress government at the Centre. Compared to the woolly-headed approach of the then non-Congress parties, the Congress was seen as being tough, uncompromising, realistic, even Chanakya-like, on Pakistan. After all, not only had the Congress framed the broad Indian approach towards Pakistan and Kashmir, but it had also taken the war into Pakistan and ultimately broken that country into two.
Today, however, Pakistan is fervently hoping and praying that the Congress comes to power because it feels the party will be soft and pusillanimous in the face of its remorseless export of terrorism, virtually allowing it impunity to conduct the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ policy. For Pakistan, Modi is Indira Gandhi 2.0, while Modi’s opponents are Janata Party 2.0. There is a serious perception problem that Congress needs to address.
Pakistan is, perhaps, fervently hoping that the Congress comes to power because the party will be pusillanimous in the face of export of terrorism. (Photo: Reuters)
The dubious distinction of being perceived by Pakistan as the party that best serves its interest, is in no small measure the outcome of the jarring statements by party apparatchiks — a party MP calling the Army Chief a street goon, another leader questioning the ‘surgical strikes’, constant sniping on the situation in Kashmir which really conveys an impression that the Congress is soft on separatism and is batting not just against the security forces but also for the ‘militants’. Add to this the Congress’ failure to articulate its own policy on terrorism, Kashmir and Pakistan, and it is no surprise that perceptually, much of what goes for Congress policy is a hotchpotch that does not inspire confidence.
Nationalism is sacred
Once the natural party of governance, Congress has made the sort of blunders that even a political novice would be loath to making. Whether this is a sign of how cut-off the Congress is from understanding the innate nationalist impulse that drives Indian voters, or is a manifestation of how much it has been hijacked by ‘jholawalas’ who are embarrassed by anything remotely resembling patriotism and nationalism, the bottom line is that the Congress has lost the plot on national security.
Congress has scored self-goal and handed the national security and nationalism platform on a platter to the BJP by soft-peddling on terrorism — Digvijay Singh accusing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of 26/11; Manmohan Singh losing his sleep over the mother of the terrorist involved in the Glasgow airport bombing; the Congress top brass questioning the Batla House encounter. It seems to have been seen standing on the side of people who openly indulge in sedition, questioning the nuclear tests in 1998 and lampooning the government during the Kargil War.
Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad nailed it when he pointed out that the Congress seemed to be taking vicarious pleasure from the setback India received when China once again vetoed the sanctioning of the Pakistani terrorist Masood Azhar. It is a no-brainer that the low-level and petty point-scoring done by the Grand Old Party on this issue was appallingly bad politics. At a time when India was seething with rage, instead of taking aim at China, the Congress rank and file was more interested in targeting our Prime Minister. Indeed, whether it is terrorism, Kashmir, Pakistan, China or any other foreign or national security issue, the Congress has been more about taking pot shots at the BJP and Narendra Modi, rather than laying out its own policy on how it would have handled the situation and what it would do when it comes to power.
There are Congress leaders like Capt. Amarinder Singh who aren’t shy of taking the correct, if also hard, the line on national issues without letting that come in conflict with or contradict the Congress’ ‘secular’ credentials. Alas, when a party leadership prefers to encourage a stand-up comic like Navjot Singh Sidhu instead of taking a cue from the Captain, it pretty much explains how and why the Congress lost the narrative on national security.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)