A nation politically divided

Harsha Kakar
Demonetization has divided the nation in a manner unseen in recent times. In India, the main opposition party, irrespective of its ideology, considers it as its national duty to oppose and criticize every government action, right or wrong. Other political parties have a choice to be either with or against it. There are rarely fence sitters. At times, criticism is accompanied with bizarre logic. The last two years has witnessed a radical changefrom the normal. The government at the centre appears to be alone, battling a combined opposition. Another emerging trend has been increased questioning and debate by the opposition on matters involving national security.
When Pathankot occurred, the opposition including the Congress and the AAP questioned the Prime Minister’s 56-inch chest statement and challenged him to respond. Their comments at times bordered on the nation’s military being blamed as it permitted the incident to occur as also for not responding. Subsequently when terrorists struck Uri, demands for retaliation increased in tempo with the government being challenged to prove its mettle. When the army did respond, the same political parties demanded proof including specific details of the strike. For the first time, since Independence, the words of a senior army officer addressing the press (DGMO) were questioned by political parties, again with a bizarre logic of countering Pak propaganda. Politicizing of the military had reached new heights.
The ruling party claimed credit while the opposition placed weird demands, including sharing classified video’s in the public domain. The Congress went to another irrational extreme claiming that they too had launched surgical strikes, without even knowing what it meant and its implications. It was a battle to prove to the population that the action adopted by the army to revenge Uri was not new. Classified military information is rarely shared, however, in this case, to close the questioning and forcibly shut wagging tongues, the government organized a briefing for representatives of political parties. Even the parliament defence committee insisted that it be briefed on the strike, an action never earlier resorted to. The Vice-Chief of the army himself conducted both the briefing.
The recent death of three soldiers in the Machil Sector as also the beheading of one of them had the opposition braying that the government cannot even ensure peace along the LOC. Another irresponsible statement without the basic knowledge of matters military. There were no comments when the army retaliated with full vigour, compelling the Pak DGMO to call his Indian counterpart and seek a ceasefire. The military is being dragged into the depths of politics and the manner it is progressing, worse comments can be expected as elections draw closer. All this, only because the government and other political parties are at war.
It was a similar case, when military veterans launched the second phase of their OROP agitation. The suicide by one of their members, Subedar Grewal, had politicians rushing in for photo-ops and to criticize the government for its failures. It went to the extreme when AAP leader, Arvind Kejriwal, desired that the deceased veteran be declared a martyr and announced an ex-gratia payment of one crore for his family. They only remained with the agitation till the next big headline came their way. Once demonetization was announced, the veterans were ignored.For politicians, OROP is now a spent story, as they have a new gun to target the government with.
Demonetization has caused a political divide never seen in modern India. Public support appears to exist for the government’s decision as irrespective of difficulties,public behaviour has been controlled. India is known for riots breaking out for the smallest of excuses, whereas there was never one, despite hours and days of frustratingly waiting in line. With passage of time problems are easing and people accepting the diktat of the government. However, politicians from all walks of the opposition joined hands for the first time in criticizing the government. Chief Ministers left their home states to lead rallies in Delhi. They claim to be projecting problems faced by masses, while the masses wonder, if there truly is a problem. A classic case of confusion, however leaves one wondering, who is confused, the public or the politicians.
This political divide has transcended even within the media. Everyone knows which newspaper or TV channel is pro or anti the government. It is blatantly visible. Prime time debates, timings of which vary channel to channel, are indicators of the leaning of the channel. Newspapers have gone to the other extreme to prove their loyalty. An average Indian’s quote given at an ATM to a national daily was changed to suit the leaning of the newspaper. The individual responded on social media to prove his point. Another case was the discovery of only two notes of the new two thousand currency on slain militants. Knowing Indian mentality of glancing headlines, it was made to appear in anti- government newspapers, that the policy of demonetization had failed as militants were in possession of bundles of these notes. The reality that two notes could have been obtained from local supporters was never even mentioned.
Political debates and discussions to improve government working is always welcome, however questioning on issues of national security and on topics where ignorance is bliss should be avoided. Photo-ops are ideal, but to indicate support and vanish as soon as a new opportunity arrives, indicates falseness and desperation which exists in our political leaders. Similarly, spreading false information amongst the public, to deliberately tarnish a policy is poor reporting by the media. While politicians are expected to grab every opportunity to project their parties’ viewpoint, the media is expected to be impartial, conveying issues for public consumption. I wonder if a biased media is ultimately good for the nation.
(The author is a retired Major                 General of the Indian Army)


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