Wars force ordinary citizens to think about their country, instead of only their own selves and families. Elections provide an opportunity for the common man to think about their leaders.
Right now India is not facing any real threat of war, despite the warlike noises being made by the leaders. Yet all the talk is about national security. Every citizen is being put through the loyalty test – patriotism is being measured by expressions of loyalty to the armed forces and to the government in power, as if it is two sides of the same coin.
In reality it is not. Having full faith in the brave soldiers and extending unqualified support to the Army, Navy and Air Force is genuine patriotism. Uncritical praise for the government of the day is quite a different thing. Especially on the eve of general elections.
When warlike situations and elections take place around the same time, it is a rare opportunity for the voting public, rich or poor, to take stock of the present and future of the country – and their own individual hopes and expectations – in a comprehensive, all-embracing manner. This is all the more so when many other wars are being fought simultaneously – social, cultural and economic.
The last five weeks need to be viewed in the backdrop of the last five years. Pulwama, Balakote and Abhinandan currently dominate national thought processes. Uppermost in the collective mind of the nation are concerns about terrorism, the ground situation in the Kashmir valley, relations with Pakistan and whether the government is handling the crisis with vision and strength or with bluff and bluster.
But by the time votes are cast in what is likely to be a multi-phase Lok Sabha election schedule stretching over five weeks of April and May, the war clouds would hopefully have rolled by. It will mercifully be back to the usual unsavory election squabbles about economic stagnation, policy paralysis, political corruption, crony capitalism, unemployment, farmer agitations, Dalit atrocities, cow-lynching, etc., etc.
Even though it might sound ironic, the vitriolic verbal warfare between political parties on such bread-and-butter issues is far, far more preferable to having to choose the next government under the shadow of war on the borders, and the flow of dismal soul-wrenching news of soldiers being martyred and civilians being killed in the crossfire.
There can be nothing more depressing for a country and its people than to count the number of body bags of slain warriors. At one level it can indeed be uplifting to the morale of the nation to hear of the selfless valour and sacrifice of officers and jawans who are prepared to lay down their lives to defend the motherland from foreign aggression.
But after the bereaved mothers and widows have no more tears left to shed, it would be a great tragedy and travesty if the legacy is how wars are often remembered: “I know not what the cause may have been, but it was a famous victory”.
The truth is that right at this juncture India needs to focus on the coming elections. The war of words between political parties about the aftermath of the Balakote airstrike is an indication of that support for the soldier does not mean politicians cannot be asked pertinent questions, especially in election season.
To quote a young Indian author Abhijit Naskar, “Sometimes war may become the only resort available, but never try to justify it, by saying that it’s the right thing to do, because war is never the right thing to do, no matter how right you feel”.
Taking the idea further, when you drop that first bomb, you have no idea who’s going to die – you don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn – how many hearts will be broken – how many lives shattered – how much blood will spill until everybody does what they were always going to do from the very beginning – sit down, talk and try to understand each other. That is for the next elected government to do – after the Lok Sabha elections.