Icons and Timing Both Matter


By B.G. Verghese

So Sachin Tendulkar is finally to retire from all forms of cricket after he plays his 200th Test against the West Indies a few weeks from now. The media had nothing else to report for 48 hours such was the excitement and emotion the news evoked. Sachin is certainly a much loved icon for millions, but the timing of his announced departure was perhaps not quite right apart from what might seem the excessive melancholy surrounding the announcement when it came.

The time for Sachin  to go was at his peak some two years ago. But he stayed on forpersonal glory rather than for Team India, blocking younger entrants for longer than warranted by his declining form as even some selectors commented. He even accepted a misplaced Lok Sabha nomination but failed to attend Parliament during a critical period of national travail, preferring to remain playing cricket to win that elusive, exclusive century. Nor as a spokesman for sport or just cricket did he speak out during the match-fixing and BCCI controversy.

The criticism may sound harsh but bears reflection. Ambedkar sounded a warning against bhakti or hero-worship outside faith in public life as this could be an opiate. Jawaharlal Nehru, the people’s darling and undoubtedly a towering figure, stayed beyond his prime and his own better judgement. The nation paid for his faltering leadership. He had confessed to being “stale” and “tired” around 1958-1959 but national sycophancy fed his ego.

It may well be said that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded more on the basis of political expediency, much as Obama’s Award was five years ago. The Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW, is dedicated to a most deserving cause and has perhaps pursued its mandate with diligence. But was this work outstanding and would the body have been widely known but for its current mandate to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in the wake of  a controversial American-led campaign in support of Syrian rebels and regime change in that country?

Many fancied Malala Yusafzai, the brave survivor of Taliban obscurantism and medieval, misogynist barbarism, who fought the War on Terror more successfully than remote-controlled drones. But she was overlooked. Some suggest this was because she is still only a child past 16 – too young and as yet uncorrupted by fame. If that was the reason, it is thoroughly fatuous. The example Malala set and the message of peace, forgiveness and values she has delivered to the world are outstanding.

Many liberals and democrats in Pakistan are understandably disappointed. But it was typical of the Taliban and jihadi elements to have denounced any move to honour Malala. This reveals a mind-set of hatred and the subversion of the true tenets of Islam. This has bedevilled the ruling coteriewhich, in the absence of a positive national identity, has fallenprey to something called “Nazariya-e-Pakistan”, incorporating an irredentist concept embracing defence of “the ideological frontiers of Pakistan”,whatever that is supposed to mean.

It is this mind-set that is at the root of Islamabad’s syndrome of denial;for if history and cultural heritage are denied they will be reinvented as fiction or “imagined truth”. This has been evident since 1947 and manifest in the most recent denials of efforts at cross-border infiltration across the LOCin J&K and the international border as at Samba. Though some of the briefings of the Indian Army on these incidents have been confusing and merit careful investigation, there is no doubt that cross border firings have increased sharply over the past year, often in support of infiltration attempts before the onset of winter closes the passes. The post-2014 US-NATO Afghanistan withdrawal is also being seen by the jihadis as an opportunity for a decisive offensive in J&K.

The Pakistani line is that the firings and intrusions are exaggerated and must in any case be laid at the door of indigenous “freedom fighters” within “held-Kashmir”, possibly assisted by non-State actors from across the border. This is nonsense. Even if local separatist elements are active, as indeed they are, they will be active well within the Valley or Jammu and are not going to risk sneaking through several lines of Indian defences to get to the LOC from where to make a frontal attack on the Indian Army only to get back to where they started! It is cross-border infiltrators that might and do attempt to get through the Indian defence lines. But they can only do so with the connivance or, more likely, the active support of the Pakistan Army whose defence lines they must penetrate to get to the LOC in the first place. These infiltrators, as the President, Mr Pranab Mukherjee caustically remarked, “do not drop from heaven”!

The question then arises as to whether such operations are being planned and assisted by rouge elements of the Pakistan Army and ISI with or without the knowledge of GHQ and the Government. Gen Bikram Singh, the Indian Army Chief, has no doubt about the active involvement of the Pakistan Army. If so, is Nawaz Sharif involved or is there a parallel authority in command here? These questions will naturally follow and, denials notwithstanding, we may have to wait for conclusive answers.  

Should then India persevere with the peace process on the premise of clear and unambiguous evidence of action by Pakistan in stopping cross-border infiltrationas set out by Manmohan Singh in his talks with Nawaz Sharif in Washington?  The answer is, yes. Let the two DGMOs meet and let the Rawalpindi case against the 26/11 accused show forward movement after the evidence led by the Pakistan judicial commission looking into the Kasab trial that has just returned from Mumbai. The trends will be clearer thereafter, a few weeks from now. By then there should also be a new Army Chief in Pakistan and other senior military appointees in place following Kayani’s retirement. Time will tell what change that might bring – if any.

Until then, let muscular and unseemly verbal chauvinism on certain of our TV channels and papers be kept under control through Dusshera and Diwali – and beyond.

Meanwhile the preparedness shown for the landfall of super-cyclone Phailan in coastal Andhra and Odisha last week end has paid off. Well done.



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