Television anchors are more sinned against than sinners. And their perverse power is vastly exaggerated. In the past fortnight, we have been led to believe that the nightly war-mongering and the constant cries for revenge, retribution and to-teach-them-a-lesson-they-will-never-forget is the proximate and sole cause for the war clouds hovering over Islamabad and New Delhi. That, if it had not been for these gentlemen (and a few ladies), the nation would have been able to take Pakistan’s alleged barbarism on the chin and move on.
The presenters of television news are not idiots. They have an unerring finger on the pulse of the nation. They are mood detectors. And even if one accepts all that is attributed to them, they mostly tap into the existing public temper. They don’t create it. It is the chicken or the egg riddle—which came first? The war-mongering or the public outrage? I believe the latter.
The outrage did not burst forth because of a single act. It was the cumulative outcome of pent-up fury festering since the Kargil war in 1999 to flight IC 814 to the Parliament attack, to 26/11, to the current beheading. Besides, the alleged over-reaction to the events of January 8 presented the country with another example of the unchanging pattern in the response of our estranged neighbour: first, the categorical denial with the taunting reprimand, “look within your own borders for the culprits”, to eventually a grudging acceptance of the incident, but with a crucial caveat—non-state actors were involved, to Pakistani soil could have been used in the planning of the crime, but we knew nothing about it, to the possible collusion of rogue state actors, but please show us the evidence of the collusion—evidence which will “stand up in a court of law”. Since the crime was conceived, masterminded and financed on Pakistani soil, how can India provide the smoking gun?
I have often pondered over the question: why does the Pakistan officialdom hate India so viscerally? If you put aside the conqueror’s arrogance, what infuriates our neighbour is the fact that India has survived (and, importantly, prospered) as a functioning, secular democracy, while the land of the pure has turned into the land not of all Muslims, but of Sunnis, simultaneously emerging as the “most dangerous place on earth”. The theory of a death through a thousand cuts has been a fiasco. They have failed to drag us down to their level—that is the reason for their angst.
I write these words with immense sadness and regret. At present, I see myself as 50 per cent dove and 50 per cent realist as far as Pakistan is concerned.
How then do we move forward? With great caution, undoubtedly. When domestic public opinion is not just vexed but enflamed thus, dialogue and other overtures will require a brief pause. No democratically elected government can ignore domestic public opinion. The pause must, of course, be short and people-to-people contacts should be halted for a still shorter period. Move on, we must. There is no other option. When dialogue resumes we need to remember that the aam aadmi in Pakistan is our friend—though the establishment is not.
Vinod Mehta’s piece When Doves Fly Low finally constituted something sensible from him. Hope similar wisdom dawns on other Wagah border mombattiwallahs.
Rakesh Mehra, New Delhi
Mr Mehta’s experience of the aam aadmi in Pakistan must be different given that he is a prominent journalist from New Delhi. You need to meet Pakistanis as aam aadmi elsewhere and then judge their reactions. The years of brainwashing by jehadi elements cannot evaporate overnight. India has done little in this regard, and I have little hope from the present leadership.
Surjit Kohli, Gurgaon
An arcane and abstruse concept of quantum physics, the Heisenberg principle of uncertainty, can perhaps explain Mr Mehta’s riddle of whether it is television coverage that creates public frenzy, or the other way round. Stated in simple, non-mathematical terms, it postulates that the very act of observing a phenomenon changes its nature and course. Likewise, any action being captured on a TV camera gets influenced and exaggerated precisely because the protagonists are conscious of their being on camera. This behavioural factor has been exacerbated by the electronic media in the recent cases of the gangrape in Delhi or the beheading of our soldiers at the LoC, wherein several TV anchors and reporters have recklessly incited their subjects by asking them provocatively leading questions. All of which naturally disproves Mr Mehta’s conclusion that public outrage precedes media hysteria.
Ramesh Ramachandra, Bangalore
The Pallava king, Mahendra Pallava, sensing a spirit of defeatism in his people, built numerous Bharata mandapas, where the Mahabharata was read daily. So, when the war came with Chalukya Pulikesi, his people rose to the occasion. Perhaps we in India need to revisit the project, especially the story Kunti narrated about Vithula and her son.
Rakhal Ghosh, Philadelphia
Pakistan’s strategic assets in India are all once again coming out of the woodwork!
Ravi Patel, Baroda
I have several friends who happen to be from Pakistan. And let me tell you, what we call the “establishment” of Pakistan is nothing but the ‘aam aadmi’ of Pakistan. And because we ignore this fact we have to act surprised each time they give us a bloody nose. A co-worker of mine has an older brother working in the ISI, another friend has a dad still serving in the army. These are not different entities but one which know India to be their existential enemy. They are right. With similarities in language, culture, history, and even weaknesses, India as the bigger, more successful and original inheritor of everything common exerts a massive influence on their polity and their mind—just by being there. Pakistan has not been able to handle this well, and only by its aggressive, proactive and virulently anti-India stand been able to hold on to their ‘Pakistaniat’. India would do well to wear velvet gloves but only if she can have an iron fist inside them. Above all, it should never make the fatal mistake of thinking that their establishment is some kind of strange monster come from outer space. It’s not.
Ashutosh Kaul, Toronto
Mr Vinod Mehta all along had a soft spot for Pakistan. A journalist must keep aside his ideology, prejudices and sentiments when writing or repoting on tv. I have not seen that in India yet. Indians are inherently emotional and their heart often overrules their heads. That helps if you were an artist, painter, author, mucisian or a dancer. Journalist when thinks from the heart usually ends up pretty confused.
Mr D.L Narayan, You have put forward your views so well. I shall be reading your posts a few times. This is how we must learn to put forward our arguments. Highly appeciated.
[[It was from the same Dalit/Buddhist link. I did not invent it.]]
It means you concurred with whatever drivel was posted in that link.
So you mean we should play cricket with the Pakistanis even while one arm of their creation kills our soldiers? I had thought the silly Mnmohan Singh had led us to be a soft state, now it appears even journalists want to make us the laughing stock of the world.
The only correct approach India has to adopt w.r.to Pakistan is the same we adopted w.r.to the Apartheid Era south africa. There is no need for open war with Islamic republic of Pakistan .What we need to do is stand firm on our ground and refuse to engage in any kind of relationship with Pakistan, till and untill they discard their theocracy and treat their religious minorities as equals.
Fighting a direct war is a very silly and easy approach for imbeciles. Fighting a cold war till end out of conviction based on a morally correct stand is the real approach for real brave folks who stand by convictions.
Diverse, secular India should perpare for a long "COLD" war with Pakistan till the latter sheds its millitant and barbarian theocracy.
Any trade ties with pak does not impact India much, Pak does not produce even one of the top 10 imported items by india and Pak is not a big market for any of the top 10 exported items from India. trade ties with pak are only for a interested elite and so can wait till we get the nation cured of its disease of theocracy.
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