If you were ever into sports growing up, you would remember there were largely three category of kids at the playground – the bullies: who, well, bullied, threatened, and pushed the weak around at will; the weak were divided into two: those who sucked up to the bullies (let’s call them “conniving weak”) and the other weak who were only weak in stature but not attitude (“foolish weak”) and would naively pick fights with the conniving weak and the bullies on moral grounds. The conniving weak received “protection” from the bullies they sucked up to when other bullies and/or the other weak threatened them. That left the foolish weak in a very precarious position – they either had to become strong over time to stand up to the bullies or simply whine to their teachers on how they were right and others wrong.
If the world were one big geopolitical playground, India would fall under the third category – the foolish weak. Since independence, India has been trying hard to raise its profile around the world. First under its foolish first PM using a morally superior but logically stupid umbrella of non-alignment with other weak countries and then slowly as it realized that naiveté of being foolishly weak doesn’t get you anywhere, with building its military complex. During this time, India has beaten its other weak, but conniving, neighbor, Pakistan, in 1948, 1965, and 1999 wars and breaking the neighbor apart in 1971 and capturing 90,000 of its soldiers as POWs. The one time India fought a bully in 1962 on moral grounds it was beaten black and blue, despite the heroic fight it had put up.
However, over time India was able to build a strong enough military capacity such that the bullies started taking note and started avoiding picking fights with it. As such, this didn’t stop its conniving neighbor, who still enjoyed protection from United States and China for their own geostrategic and economic reasons, to mount terror attacks and continue down its long-term strategy of hurting India with a thousand cuts. During this time, India was able to build a strong enough military capacity to stand up to not just the other weak players but also some bullies. Except, the ruling class was still cowardly and foolish in its approach, thinking moral uprightness and out of context ancient platitudes like “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam“, “Ahimsa parmo Dharma” could earn it respect in the global playground.
Not only was the ruling class’ cowardliness foolish, but it also incriminated the elites in the murder of their own people – terror attacks killed 31 innocent men, women and children in Akshardham in 2002, burnt 57 men, women, and children alive in Godhra in 2002 causing widespread communal riots, 52 in Mumbai’s local train bombings in 2003, 70 in Delhi, 21 in Varanasi, 209 in 2006 Mumbai local train bombings, over 300 in 2008, and approximately 200 more since then. The blood of these innocent people was on the terrorists propped up by Pakistan, but also on ruling class of Indian politicians, opinion makers, and the elite who never traveled by public transport, an easy target for terrorists, rarely visited temples, and often found security due to their status in society. They meekly accepted that India had to pay the price of being a weak state with no options to deter such flagrant abuses by its neighbors.
Until a man with a humble background arrived on the scene and brought with him a bluster that terrified many across the border. Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India with a thumping mandate in an election where he was projected as a strong leader, a bully. At first many, including his supporters (or “bhakts” as the this ruling class likes to call them – not a very subtle way of hiding their deep Hinduphobia but I digress), sometimes more vociferously than others, questioned why this strong leader was continuing down the path of using diplomacy and moral uprightness as a tool of dealing with playground bullies and their weak puppets. In retrospect, road shows by Modi around the western world were helpful in showing to the world how India was no longer a weak society, both economically and socially. This also served to remind other countries of dehyphenating India from its weak petulant neighbor and see it in its own light.
And that’s why when 20 of India’s soldiers were murdered in their sleep by proxies from Pakistan earlier this month, the world was watching to see if India meant business or not, and Indians themselves questioned really how strong was their strong leader. Initially India opened the door to isolating Pakistan globally by pleading its case to world powers – who by now were very well aware of Pakistan’s perfidy in playing good-and-bad terrorist games, but had limited support to offer India. The focus then shifted to bolder measures to punish Pakistan. Modi mentioned that blood and water can’t flow together – A not so subtle reference to the Indus Water Treaty which India, under its foolishly weak first PM, had signed with Pakistan giving it more than proportional rights to the rivers flowing from India to Pakistan, in an effort to placate Pakistan and hope its attitude changed in the face of such generosity from its bigger neighbor. It didn’t. India also looked at reviewing the Most Favored Nation trade status that it had given Pakistan. Everyone thought India was back to being a feeble and weak state as it had been all along.
Everyone, except India’s national security strategists who were doing a thorough reconnaissance of terrorist infrastructure to target if the Indian leaders chose to go that route. This is when Narendra Modi showed to the world that he was indeed the strong leader ready to leverage India’s now strengthened military muscle and give it back to the terrorist sympathizers using surgical strikes to target specific locations within enemy territory. There was no moral high ground, only business. No platitudes only action. Yes, similar surgical strikes had taken place in the past under previous governments but none had the cajones to come out in the public and announce to the world that India was no longer willing to be a coward, a foolishly weak state, clinging on to some moral high ground. Killing of its innocent citizens would be avenged by the killing of murderers and their supporters. After all the full ancient Hindu shlok goes:
“Ahimsa Paramo Dharma
Dharma himsa tathaiva cha”
Non-violence is the ultimate dharma. So too is violence in service of Dharma. As a result of the surgical strikes, there is likely to be some reprisals from the now jittery Pakistani establishment. But India has now signaled that attacks on it will not be taken meekly but will be responded with force. Longer term, the deterrence created by this act will likely improve the security conditions in the country, eventually giving businesses a respite from the threat of violence that had circulated over Indian cities and towns in recent years. India was beginning to take its initial steps into becoming a strong power, a Bahu-bully. And this time the new bully in town comes with moral uprightness as well.