FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
Publicity is the hallmark of the NDA government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi so the high decibel levels giving a blow by blow account of a Special Forces operation in Myanmar was characteristic. That it stupefied the Indian military and at least some thinking elements of the strategic establishment was reported in detail by The Citizen, the first to question what had television channels joining the government in the rather dangerous thumping of chests.
Junior Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore emerged as the face of the government, maintaining that the decision for the surgical strikes was given by PM Modi, and that the government would not hesitate to cross borders in hot pursuit. Clearly under instructions, he hopped from television news channel to channel, explicit in the details of the operations carried out by the Special Forces. Now that the publicity has angered the military that is openly questioning the wisdom of a government that exposes its special units, Rathore is being made a scapegoat by the very persons who fielded him.
The consequences of this rocking publicity are already being felt in New Delhi.
1. Militants Have United for Retaliatory Strikes in N-E:
NSCN-K that has challenged the government claim of killing a 100 insurgents in Myanmar--”show us the bodies”—is regrouping for retaliatory action. Far from being finished, or cowed down, this militant group and others in the region are regrouping with the government being compelled to place Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam on high alert. New official figures now suggest that only seven persons were killed, and the list does not include top NSCN-K cadres. The ‘hot pursuit’ was expected to strike fear amongst the insurgents, but instead it seems to have united many of the groups who are pooling resources to strike at the government and other targets instead.
2. Special Forces and Military Are Dismayed and Angry:
The Special Forces deployed are aghast at the publicity. As is the military that cannot understand the campaign that was built by the government around a secret, covert operation with a minister being sent from channel to channel to brag about the strikes, exaggerate figures, and threaten other neighbouring countries with the same if required.
3. Myanmar is embarrassed and alienated:
Myanmar that might have been taken on board before the strikes in its territory, was even more dismayed with the 24 hour publicity on television channels in India. It was compelled to issue a blanket denial, maintaining no such strikes took place on its territory. And that it will not allow any foreign country to intervene in such manner. Myanmar is readying for the general elections in October end, and is clearly upset with the Indian chest thumping that has in effect, challenged its sovereignty. National Security Advisor has been sent posthaste to Myanmar to assuage the anger, and bridge the breach as it were. However, it is certain now that Myanmar will not allow a repeat performance, despite Rathore’s initial claims, and as a result of the loud publicity New Delhi has alienated a cooperative neighbour.
4. A new tense front has been opened with Pakistan:
Relations with Pakistan have dipped to an all time low, with hostility written now in capital letters. For no reason at all Islamabad has been dragged into the picture, one with PM Modi’s remarks in Bangladesh about the 1971 war from which successive Indian governments have kept a distance despite the public secret of New Delhi’s involvement; and two with Rathore’s suggestion that any act of terrorism from Pakistan would merit the same ‘hot pursuit’ response. Pakistan has retaliated strongly to both; the Senate has passed a resolution attacking India on both these fronts, and expressing full confidence in its Army to defend the country. In the process the Army has regained ground in Pakistan with strategic experts in South Asia openly wondering about the equation being made by New Delhi between Myanmar and Pakistan. Tensions are now palpable, with the smaller South Asian countries worried about India’s increasingly visible hegemonistic ambitions.
5. Media credibility has been further compromised:
The media has hit a new low. Some television channels in a bid to please the government, turned into war mongering machines. Some newspapers printed a six year old picture of the Special Forces personnel passing it as the latest. It was then found that a news agency had released it. When the news agency was questioned, it said that the photograph had been cleared and released by the relevant wing of the Ministry of Defence. There was little effort to check facts, to exercise sobriety and restraint, and to follow the basic ethics of defence reporting. Instead the media rushed to follow Rathore and the government with its blow by blow accounts placing dead insurgents at 50, then increasing the numbers to 100, and then within 24 hours falling flat on its face with the new and seemingly more authentic figure of just seven dead.