I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.”
Over a century after Rabindranath Tagore wrote these lines in a letter to his friend, the truth of his profound statement strikes us in the face almost on a daily basis, with the Sangh Parivar and its extended family in the media branding all dissenters as seditionists out to destroy the nation as imagined by Hindu cultural nationalists. Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Jai Shriram are the passwords to enter the patriotic club whose corridors reverberate with cries of muscular nationalism. Whenever tension grips India’s borders, wars break out on television screens, blurring the line between journalism and jingoism. Whipping up nationalist sentiments among a political constituency overfed with myths and flawed historical narratives has proved to be a time-tested election winner, especially when the promise of AccheDin has faded out as a distant memory. Balakot and Pulwama are the two instances cited in recent times in this connection, especially after revelations that a hypernationalist television anchor allegedly made celebratory linkages between them and the impending general election of 2019.
It is in this atmosphere of superpatriotism that Frontline ’s investigative report, published first in the digital edition after a year-long investigation into the circumstances leading up to the ghastly Pulwama attack of February 14, 2019, assumes significance. The investigation revealed that between January 2, 2019, and February 13, 2019, there were at least 11 intelligence inputs, some of them actionable, pointing to a terrorist mission to attack a security forces’ convoy at Lethpora, Pulwama, and that the key conspirator Mudasir Ahmed Khan’s whereabouts were known to the intelligence agencies. Yet the attack happened eventually, resulting in the death of 40 soldiers of the Central Reserve Police Force.
Their martyrdom became campaign material for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, with Prime Minister Narendara Modi leading from the front. In the 150-odd election rallies he addressed, the Pulwama terror attack and the strongman Modi’s revenge in the form of the Balakot air strike were constant refrains. Even as the rabble-rousing campaign was on, Satish Misra, Visiting Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, saw a direct link between Pulwama and the prospects of Modi winning a second term. Without mincing words, he wrote on March 5, 2019: “Killing of over 40 security forces personnel at Pulwama has come Modi’s way as God’s gift since the BJP’s political fortunes were nosediving. Given his talent to turn a tragedy into a political opportunity, Modi did not even pause a minute to go into grief as a normal citizen would have done. Instead, he began to exploit popular sentiments for electoral objectives.”
The New York Times did not lag behind. A note authored by three writers on March 11, 2019, said: “Economic growth had been slowing, thousands of farmers were marching in the capital, and unemployment had hit its worst levels in 45 years…. But one bombing in Kashmir… appears to have interrupted Mr. Modi’s slump.”
Pulwama did not just interrupt the slump. It turned out to be a fillip to Modi’s attempt to return to the Prime Minister’s chair with a massive majority.
The question now, in the light of Frontline ’s investigative report, is whether Pulwama was just another bloody chapter in the hostile history of India-Pakistan relations post-Partition. Or was there a deeper conspiracy at work?
Doubts on this count have lingered since February 2019. Frontline ’s revelations have only strengthened the doubts. The deafening silence of the usually vociferous establishment only adds to the mystery. What is its response? The nation wants to know.