Indo-Pak war mindedness has a different formulation

October 03, 2016 06:54 PM
Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former Governor of West Bengal

Writer: Gopalkrishan Gandhi*

Our Constitution shares something with Leo Tolstoy. ‘War and peace.’ Those three words, written exactly like the title of his classic novel, comprise Entry 15 in the Union List of our Constitution. In mindscapes as ordinary as mine, this simply means that the Union of India, and the Union of India alone, can decide when to declare war, when to return to peace.

We are almost at war. “Almost” because war has not been declared by the Union Government or the President who, contrary to popular belief, is not ‘Supreme Commander of the Armed forces’ but in whom the supreme command over our armed forces vests. The point of this quibble is that the President in declaring war (if and when he does) acts on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.

India and Pakistan are being drummed into war-mindedness, not in the sense of a readiness to face war should it happen, but in the sense of wanting a war

Wars, declared or undeclared, in India or by India are the work of the Prime Minister of the day. That is the first thing about any ‘India war’.

A short history of India’s wars

We have been at war five times before. And all but once with the same country, Pakistan. In 1947-48, 1965, 1971, 1999. Was war ‘declared’ in all those four cases?

War could not be formally declared in 1947-48 which was Prime Minister Nehru’s India-Pakistan war; there was no time. The second India-Pakistan war, Prime Minister Shastri’s war, also started on August 5, 1965 without a formal declaration of war.

The 13-day, third India-Pakistan war of 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s war, started officially when on the evening of December, 3 1971, the Pakistani Air Force struck eleven airfields in our north-west, including Agra. Addressing the nation over All India Radio that evening, she said the PAF air strikes were a declaration of war against India, and the Indian Air Force responded with initial air strikes that very night.

In the last of the series, in May-July 1999, the Kargil war of Prime Minister Vajpayee, unleashed by Pakistan soldiers infiltrating into the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC), took us by utter surprise, even disbelief. We were in the war before we could declare it. Declared in terms of Entry 15 or not, all four were wars. And they were wars linked for all time, for the better or worse, with the Prime Ministers of the day.

We are now on the threshold of war. Prime Minister Modi’s war. Tolstoy’s phrase in the Union List beams red to show danger, green as if to say ‘Go Ahead’. As citizens of India, we must trust that such a war, if it does take place, will be justified, will be fought clean, and will put cross-border terrorism in its place.

But we should do more. We should trust our Prime Minister, whose mind is so difficult to fathom, to remember what Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Vajpayee did in 1965, 1971 and 1999, respectively, but also how they followed that up with moves that placed war in the doghouse.

This is not to exculpate terrorism. It is to not oblige it by overreaction and self-destruction. M.K. Narayanan’s sage advice in these very columns two weeks ago must be heeded by New Delhi.

There is no such thing in war, declared or undeclared, as tit for tat, and that is that. Surgical strikes can be expected to be followed by post-surgical complications. Who will pay for them? Those who gloat over the ‘fitting reply’? Certainly not. Those who describe that as ‘the rise of a new India’? Most certainly not.

Soldiers, brave-hearts, trained to fight and be prepared to die fighting, will fight the war if it comes. And we will, as we must, honour them. But while they do their duty by war, we must do ours by peace. Remembering that ‘War and Peace’ are one single entry in the Union List, we — you and I — must fight another war. And that is the war against war-mongering, a war against the psychology that glorifies war, that makes nuclear warheads of our minds. We must step out of the queue for sectarian hatred and line up with that for secular intelligence. We must declare war against the un-entered Entry that seeks to displace ‘War and Peace’, which is ‘War and Polarisation’. We must expunge it.

*Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former Governor of West Bengal, is distinguished professor of history and politics, Ashoka University.

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