The September 18 Uri terrorist attack on India by Pakistan-based militants was followed on September 29 by India’s ‘surgical strikes’ against Pakistan’s terrorist hubs across the Line of Control (LoC). Pakistan denies these strikes, which were received with huge popular approval in India. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruling India derived considerable political mileage from the event.
This was followed by the BRICS summit (October 15-16) at Goa consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa and India. It was a multilateral summit not meant for discussion of bilateral issues. However, India mounted a strenuous campaign at the summit to get Pakistan declared as terrorist state. The campaign met with opposition from China which held that both India and Pakistan as victims of terrorism and that Pakistan had made huge sacrifices in its fight against terrorism. China was opposed to holding any specific country or religion guilty of promoting terrorism.
India ignored the fact that the New Delhi-based South Asia terrorism portal (www.satp.org) had produced figures showing that during the years 2003-2016, Pakistan had suffered more from terrorist attacks than India. The portal said that during these years, India had lost 26,882 lives (civilians: 9640, security forces: 4249, terrorists: 12 993) and that Pakistan had lost 61,148 lives (civilians: 21,389, security forces: 6,564, terrorists: 33,195) from terrorist attacks. Further, the anti-Soviet Mujahedeen wars in Afghanistan (1979-1989) led by the US, had led to influx of 25,000 foreign jihadists into Afghanistan and the entry of about seven million Afghan refugees into Pakistan.
Regardless of these findings, India’s ruling BJP built up a huge anti-terrorist campaign against Pakistan, which led to the emergence of a hyper nationalist and jingoist trend across the country. The party hoped to benefit from this development in the state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur due February-March 2017.
The adverse impact of such hyper nationalism and jingoism is examined here in two broad areas of Indian public life namely the media and the movies.
In an article on October 23 (Indian Express), former Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram critically examined India’s role at the BRICS summit. He hinted at the need for more information on India’s ‘surgical strikes’ which Pakistan said had not taken place.
Bending to changing political winds, the NDTV, a leading media outlet, attempted to censor the minister’s views in this regard. Apparently under political pressure, the channel announced on October 7:
The editorial director of the channel said that “across the NDTV network, we have decided we will not give space to the political bickering that has broken out on the ‘surgical strikes.’ She added that “national security cannot be compromised by politics; our Army cannot be doubted or questioned or used for political gains.”
The editor-in-chief of another TV channel known for his ultra-nationalist views, reportedly sought and was given police protection by the government. Clearly, the TV channels had come under political pressure.
Turning to movies, Bollywood movies over the years have played a hugely important role in building good relations between India and Pakistan. In the atmosphere of hyper nationalism and jingoism against Pakistan generated in the wake of India’s ‘surgical strikes’ against Pakistan, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a far-right political formation headed by Raj Thackeray (an offshoot of the well-known Shiv Sena of Mumbai, which has a long history of promoting hatred and jingoism) demanded banning of Pakistani actors, technicians and musicians from working in India. It also attacked Bollywood and Indian actors who took a stand against its call for such a ban.
The MNS’ jingoist and anti-Pakistan hyper-nationalist stand against the showing of the film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil by a well-known film producer, which featured a Pakistani actor turned out to be illogical since the film had been under production for over two years from a time when Indo-Pak relations were normal.
The threatened hooliganism and violence by the MNS had to be met firmly by the firm exercise of state power by the Chief Minister of the Maharashtra, a BJP leader.
Instead of displaying firmness of approach as required by the situation, the state chief minister, opted to invite the film producer and the chief of the jingoistic MNS for a discussion with him at which he worked out a deal in which the film would be allowed to be shown in public provided the producer of the film made a huge financial payment to the army welfare fund in memory of the Indian soldiers who had laid down their lives for the nation during the Pakistani terrorist attack at Uri. This was nothing but extortion on the part of the MNF chief, which should have been resisted by the chief minister. What took place was the subversion of the rule of law by a politician who had no respect for the institutions and procedures of democratic governance. This brought the state into disrepute. The chief minister, however, justified his action ignoring the fact that he was setting a precedent on political surrender to lawless elements in society, which will be followed in future.
An independent observer (The Hindu, October 28) noted that the Indo-Pak political conflict has sadly spilled into the cultural domain “attenuating forces that provided a glimmer of hope for an integrated, peaceful and prosperous South Asia in which culture, arts, music and movies mingled to promote better people to people relations.”