A dozen years after 26/11

“The events in Mumbai have left me aghast, my reaction to its aftermath, like so many of my countrymen, still one of disbelief.

I woke up this morning to a nightmare, of General Dyer justifying his firing on the hapless of Jalianwallah Bagh. It is interesting to imagine how today media would cover the event. Would there be TV cameras trying to get the best shots, news hungry journalists documenting the massacre, degenerating the dour scenes into a vaudevillian farce in the name of “breaking news”?

 The world has moved on since Jalianwallah. A decolonized India is assertive in its economic and military prowess. Yet, in a land where the people are no strangers to terror, and have had to deal with it as much before independence as after, there is a massive gap in the perception of its seriousness from the doyens of its destiny – the political class. Just look at the deplorable statement by the Maharashtra CM, and the way political parties are trying to leverage the incident for their own mileage.

It is because of this “chalta hai” attitude that we haven’t been able to break off the shackles of caste, creed, and religion in over half a century. It has left us vulnerable, still incapable in effectively dealing with terrorists, who, like General Dyer, care nothing of humanity, but whose threat to huamity’s existence is very real. The solution, as anyone could point out, is unity and strong, unequivocal governance. But with the facile hands at the helm, it is hard to conceive.”

Mumbai skyline

I had penned those words in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attack. A dozen years have elapsed. Governments have changed. But 26/11 mastermind Lakhvi has not yet been brought to justice. Americans would have bombed their way to hunt him down. Israelis would have undertaken a quick covert strike to eliminate him. But India pursued diplomacy and intelligence sharing, knowing full well that nothing would come out of it, that the enemy state itself was complicit.

When BJP came to power in 2014, a lot was expected to change with Narendra Modi at the helm. And it did. Frequent terror attacks subsided, especially after Uri and Balakot strikes were carried out successfully against terror targets. India has made it clear to Pakistan, after initial naïve attempts at biryani diplomacy, that its misadventures would not be tolerated. And now, with the Galwan conflict India has made it clear to China as well.

India has taken the right posture towards Pakistan and China. It is rooted in reality. And reality is that both China and Pakistan are hostile towards India. There should not be a shadow of doubt in anyone’s mind in calling them out as enemy states.

Pakistan is a basket case. Its sole purpose is to needle India, which it has done so repeatedly since its formation. If it really cared for its people, the right thing for Pakistan to do would be to stop harboring and training terrorists, take a serious look at its economy, which is in tatters. Unfortunately, Pak army and ISI, the real puppet masters, are not interested. So Pakistan trains terrorists to fight its sordid battles. India has to insulate itself from Pakistan, with military deterrence if need be, as long as that country doesn’t mend its ways, which seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.

China is a hostile power with intent of regional hegemony. It is no friend or ally of India, never was and never will be. India has to keep its guards up, not just along LAC, but in every territory – be it in the Indian Ocean or cyberspace. But that merely is not enough. India needs to really bolster its defense capabilities. Funds should be liberally allocated towards building absolutely cutting edge cyberwar infrastructure and capabilities, to not only defend, but pre-emptively strike Chinese hackers and bots, fight disinformation in social media platforms. Another area requiring huge improvements is communication. India needs to be swift in communicating across all channels, government and military, to media or directly through social media like Twitter. This is where democracy is a big plus, but India has scarcely played this to its advantage. Hold press conferences, lambast China for its infringements. And do it quickly, uniformly. Speed is of utmost importance in modern warfare.

Regarding trade, one can’t just pull the plug or insulate oneself completely from China, given its pervasiveness in today’s global economy. India’s bilateral trade with China, excluding HK, neared 100 billion USD in 2019. But India had a massive trade deficit of more than 50 billion USD. This deficit has to be reduced. India has to make it attractive for foreign companies to set up manufacturing facilities. It has to increase productivity and quality. To counter China on the economic front, India has to grow its own capabilities at a blistering pace. The coronavirus stalled economic scenario presents an opportunity to finally harness the yet unfulfilled economic promise heralded by Modi’s rise to power. Implement those big-bang reforms we keep hearing about, but which have been absent so far. And implement them like there’s no tomorrow, so India can surge ahead in the post-covid world.

I was astounded after 26/11 when India did not retaliate with force, despite knowing the source of terror. A section of government and media even tried to create a “Saffron terror” bogey. What was more astounding was that the Congress party still managed to win the 2009 elections, leading to five more years of utter corruption and economic rout, on the heels of the 2008 US housing market collapse and subsequent worldwide recession. India lost a crucial decade in economic growth from 2004 – 2014, when it needed to grow at 10 plus percent, riddled instead with high inflation, extreme corruption and regressive socialistic policies. But there isn’t time anymore. Galwan should really be a wake-up call for India. India must grow at upwards of 10% for the next two decades to eradicate poverty and emerge as a powerful high income economy. A lot of the underlying framework, or their essence, is already in place – corruption free environment, Make in India, Swachh Bharat Mission and the like. Time to ruthlessly tear down the final hurdles – institutional red-tape, bureaucracy and socialism, in every sector – from manufacturing and hi-tech to education and infrastructure.

India is a great country. Indian civilization is rare as a continuously living civilization that has flourished in the face of external forces that wiped out other civilizations like Mesopotamian, Egyptian or the civilizations of the Indigenous peoples of North and South Ameria. For India to continue to flourish, meritocracy and free market economy, along with strong military capabilities to deter its enemies, is the way forward.

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Alter ego of @thecallofwords Wandering in the flow of words

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