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War, the final solution for Pulwama? It’s not a video game

Who’s to tell the battle-hungry that battles scar both sides, wars extract a heavy price from all? Who’s to shout that wars are ruinous, disastrous in every way for everyone?

mumbai Updated: Feb 28, 2019 00:52 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
India Pakistan,Pulwama,LoC
As news of Indian Air Force MiG21 pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, in Pakistan’s custody spread like wildfire, and clips shared on social media, warmongers wanted more bombs to be dropped on the neighbouring country, “smashing”, “pulverising”, “finishing” it. (ANI)

A city on high alert against terror or war looks and feels different from its usual self. Subtle signs of the high alert are everywhere: Quick Response Commando units, more bandobast on streets, greater vigilance at airports and railway stations, baggage checks at railway entrances, anti-sabotage checks at nodal stations, commuters watching for abandoned bags or suspicious movements, rumours of schools and colleges shutting down, less crowded streets at night.

Everything looks just a bit more chaotic, uniformed men everywhere, palpable tension in the air, some dread and anxiety, more looking over the shoulder and under the train seat than usual. Commuter conversations and nukkad talk are about war, random unconnected people arguing and pushing for war against Pakistan.

Almost no one in the train compartment or the bus or at nukkad chaiwallah called the Indian Air Force’s foray into Pakistan to drop a payload on terror camps in Balakot early Tuesday morning by the carefully calibrated term that diplomats used - “non-military pre-emptive strike”. Most just said war or battle.

Their appetites had been whetted, their sensitivities dulled, by jingoistic nationalism. Negotiating the high alert became a minor inconvenience. As news of Indian Air Force MiG21 pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, in Pakistan’s custody spread like wildfire, and clips shared on social media, warmongers wanted more bombs to be dropped on the neighbouring country, “smashing”, “pulverising”, “finishing” it. This has to be the “aar-paar ki ladaai”, they echoed, unmindful of the nuclear power balance.

Who’s to tell the battle-hungry that battles scar both sides, wars extract a heavy price from all? Who’s to shout that wars are ruinous, disastrous in every way for everyone? Who’s to ask for reflection, contemplation, that those who desire and celebrate war are not the ones who have to participate in it, that those who have to participate and their families are unlikely to celebrate it? Who’s to demand accountability and answers from the government for the intelligence lapses that led to the dastardly Pulwama attack on CRPF jawans on February 14 which was then escalated to the point of an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation?

On primetime television, in drawing rooms, on social media forwards, war is the attractive final solution to complex geopolitical problems, the only way to take down terror training camps. In Mumbai’s public transport, in bazaars, at nukkads, this sentiment gathers community energy and becomes a powerful demand. The chest-thumping off-screen mimics the one on screen. Mumbai has been shaken to its core multiple times by some of the world’s worst terror attacks; to many, war seems just desserts, the payback.

This casual chatter around a possible war is frightening, its nonchalant tone and tenor unsettling, the desire for combat chilling. In an era of war as video games – where scenes from these games are shown as real war footage – wars can seem as much fun and painless as the games perhaps. A far cry from reality but in sync with BJP’s muscular nationalism.

The pattern is not hard to miss. As Jason Burke, British journalist and security-war correspondent, noted in his essay last year in The Guardian, “It was around the time of the Paddington station attack (in 1883) that the strategy of using violence to sway public opinion through fear became widespread among actors such as the anarchists, leftists and nationalists looking to bring about dramatic social and political change. This strategy depended on two developments which mark the modern age: democracy and communications. Without the media…(and) mass circulations, the impact would be small. Without democracy, there was no point in trying to frighten a population and thus influence policymaker ... Of course, a third great development of this period was conditioned in the modern city itself. The history of terrorism is thus the history of our cities.”

Better sense has to prevail – on and off screen.

First Published: Feb 28, 2019 00:52 IST