The rush of reaction within India to the terrorist attack, clearly plotted and executed by Pakistan, on an Army base at Uri in Kashmir, resulting in the death of 18 soldiers (many others are in hospital, being treated for serious injuries, and the death toll could inch up), is quite unlike the outrage that has followed similar cross-border crimes in the past.
This time a sense of exasperation is palpable. Irrespective of their personal political preferences, Indians across the country want to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take visible, punitive action against Pakistan, imposing severe material costs for its deeds.
Modi's assurance, that "those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished", has not served to assuage feelings or stop them from boiling over.
Some of the harshest and caustic criticism of Modi's meandering Pakistan policy and failure to inflict punishment has emanated from his staunchest supporters.
A cartoon by the popular newspaper cartoonist Manjul, who is known to weigh in after considerable rumination, shows Modi blowing smoke rings at Pakistan through the barrel of a field gun.
Others have been less charitable in lampooning Modi the Strong Man with a 56-inch chest.
Quick and smart "Googling" has resulted in a spate of social media posts that highlight the similarities between what Modi and his predecessor Manmohan Singh had to say after cross-border terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan.
Modi has promised to "punish" the perpetrators; Singh had promised to "go after" them. The findings of the annual political survey conducted by the American organisation, PEW, whose publication coincided with the attack at Uri, shows there is more to the outrage than mere passing reaction to an incident, that these are not enraged sentiments that will fail the test of time.
Modi's popularity ratings remain phenomenally sky high more than two years into his five-year term.
There is sufficient endorsement of his economic policies to persist with them with suitable midcourse corrections. At the moment, there is no challenger to the "masnad" of Delhi.
The finding that stands out in stark contrast to the others and bruises the prime minister's image, especially within his core constituency, is the extremely low support for Modi's approach in dealing with Pakistan.
|Narendra Modi's birthday diplomacy. (Photo credit: Reuters)|
The PEW poll was conducted long before Pakistan's latest transgression. An instant poll today would yield near zero support and possibly lower overall endorsement of Modi.
During the 2014 election campaign, Modi was scathing and unsparing in his criticism of Singh's abysmal failure to deal with Pakistan. After winning a spectacular mandate, Modi, through explicit deed if not spoken word, has controverted everything he said, and stood for, on Pakistan while seeking votes.
This by itself is not unknown of. Indian politicians tend to blow hot on Pakistan when not in power. The heat dissipates when in office.
Barring Indira Gandhi, every Indian prime minister has chased the elusive legacy of being remembered by posterity as a peacemaker.
Pakistan's military dictators and prime ministers, on the other hand, have resolutely followed the doctrine of inflicting a thousand cuts on India by waging a covert war of cross-border terrorism. The twain of good intention and ignoble evil were never destined to meet.
But what was a brilliant opening gambit, of inviting Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif along with other SAARC heads of government to his swearing-in ceremony, has turned into disastrous adventurism in a terrain known to be treacherous and hostile.
Modi should have known better, never mind pressure from Washington, DC, or the urge to go down in history as the statesman who achieved the impossible.
It's not possible to turn the clock back. The exchange of saris and shawls, the long walk with Sharif in Kathmandu, the orchestrated "surprise" visit to Sharif's home on his birthday, the invitation to a Pakistani team, including an ISI man, to visit Pathankot after the IAF base there was attacked, the resumption of talks, all that and more now belong to the past.
Modi has to begin afresh and craft an all-new policy to deal with India's constant tormentor. If he indeed means to keep his promise, he must act craftily and ruthlessly, regardless of consequences by way of upsetting the US and China. Even if India must stand alone, he should let it be known, India will stand.
It would be stupid to expect Modi to publicly state what he plans to do. That's not how sensible leaders respond to challenges to national security.
Between war (undesirable) and inaction (unacceptable) lies a vast space for coercive action, both overt and covert, to inflict material damage and disorient Pakistan.
Giving asylum to Baloch nationalists and asserting India's rights over Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan are good first steps; they send a message to Pakistan and its patrons.
Modi should also declare he won't attend the SAARC summit at Islamabad and withdraw MFN status to Pakistan. It would distress Pakistan and its funders if Modi were to downgrade diplomatic relations.
These are some of the things that can and should be done immediately. They would calm down Indians and give Modi time to figure out the big response, its elements, and their implementation. Anything less would only breed sullen, unforgiving anger.
Voters, contrary to what politicians love to believe, have a long memory.
Meanwhile, Modi would do well to go easy on tall talk of exposing and isolating Pakistan by taking India's plaint to international fora. Pakistan does not care a toss about being exposed.
Countries that matter will not isolate Pakistan. Soothing stories by establishment journalists about India's grand diplomatic success will not quite make up for the fact that insincere statements of condemnation of Pakistani terrorism by foreign governments are meaningless triumphs, poppycock victories.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)