THROUGH MOST OF my adult life, I had got drearily accustomed to viewing India as a ‘soft state’ that gets perverse pleasure in being kicked around. Just as the beleaguered Hindus living under the Delhi Sultanate and then, the Moghuls, had tried to put a spin to their pathetic subordination by viewing the oppressors as barbarians, the citizens of Nehruvian and post- Nehruvian India often attempted to justify their vulnerability by claiming to be preoccupied with loftier things. I must say that Indira Gandhi was an exception to this trend, and she did try to pour some cement into the backbone of Hindus—a wonderful phrase that I have shamelessly lifted from a conversation with Jaswant Singh in 1993. But she was an aberration.
Recall how utterly helpless we as a nation were when the Air India’s Kanishka aircraft was blown to smithereens over the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985, killing all 329 people on board. Since the flight originated in Canada, the Canadian government appointed a commission of inquiry in 2006 headed by a retired Canadian Supreme Court justice. The 4,000- page report, submitted four years later, concluded that the Canadian authorities (including the Mounties and the intelligence agencies) were guilty of a “cascading series of errors.” In everyday parlance, the inquiry felt that Canada had seriously underestimated the threat posed to the security of both countries by the Khalistani separatists.
Recall again how helpless we felt when we had to usher the new millennium by releasing three terrorists, committed to destroying India and its democracy, in Taliban-held Kandahar. It was one of the most shameful chapters in our national existence and showed up India as a monumental soft state that couldn’t even prevent a captured aircraft from taking off from Amritsar airport and escaping Indian airspace. As far as I am aware, none of those who were responsible for lax security and the dereliction of duty was ever punished.
The image of India as a complete pushover was strongly reinforced during the tenure of the UPA government under Manmohan Singh. It was a time that Pakistan took its strategy of war by a thousand cuts to new heights. The bombing of cities and railway stations by homegrown Islamists who had escaped police detection because of political considerations became a routine feature. Then came the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai when Pakistan demonstrated how easily it could cripple and devastate an Indian metropolis because our security systems were just not geared to dealing with such threats to our national security. The problem wasn’t only one of incompetence. There was a mindset problem too. As a nation, we had got too accustomed to conceptualising weakness and pusillanimity as civilisational virtues.
Last week, at a literature festival in Puducherry, I heard the journalist Sandeep Unnithan look back on the 26/11 attacks after 15 years. Sandeep is among the best defence journalists in India and what he has to say deserves to be heard. He narrated the elaborate steps the Pakistani terror organisers had taken to conceal the fact that the 10-man squad that had been despatched to devastate Mumbai were not Pakistani. As Sandeep wrote in his book Black Tornado: “Each attacker wore a red thread or kalava around his wrist… The SIM cards in their Nokia 1200 series mobile phones, which they would use to speak to their handlers in Pakistan, were bought in India. They also carried fake student identity cards from the Arunodaya Degree College in Hyderabad. Ajmal Kasab was Sameer Choudhary. Ismail Khan was Naraish Verma.”
It is worth pointing out that one Delhi tabloid actually fell victim to this deception by pointing to the red thread of Kasab as evidence of Hindu terror. This was on the first day of the terror. And I don’t think that it stemmed from pure gullibility. Had Kasab not been taken alive by an ordinary constable with a presence of mind, the Pakistani ploy of blaming India for staging attacks on its own people would have gained currency. And it would have had media backing. This is because —as is becoming increasingly evident—there is a section of the media that is openly batting for India’s enemies.
I am sure the Trojan horses will sooner or later be exposed. But what is most reassuring is that thanks to the Narendra Modi government and an energetic National Security Advisor who has been allowed to do his job without political interference, India has acquired a much-needed reputation as a no-nonsense power. I don’t know if the charges by Canada have any substance or not, but at least India has now shown to the world it is no pushover.