Twenty one years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when in his late 40s, first registered his presence in public eye, with acerbic comments on Pakistan. “Chicken biryani nahi, bullet ka jawab bomb se diya jayega” (we won’t give them chicken biryani, we will respond to a bullet with a bomb), he had thundered in one of the TV shows he was invited to as party spokesperson and national general secretary.
The backdrop to Modi's quick rise – as a tough leader who would brook no deceit – was provided by the Kargil war.
In his fifth edition of ‘Mann Ki Baat’ in times of COVID-19, the prime minister could not have avoided mentioning that 26 July was also Kargil Vijay Diwas to commemorate how India drove out Pakistani forces from all high outposts and officially concluded the armed conflict.
The synchronisation of the two events – Modi's radio talk show and the commemoration – however draws attention to the prime minister’s limitations insofar as his nationalistic mantra is concerned.
He reminded listeners that Islamabad embarked on the “misadventure” when “India extended a hand of friendship” and Pakistan responded with a “stab in the back”.
Why Did China Not Find a Mention in PM’s Address?
In the last edition of his radio talk, Modi asserted that those “who had cast an evil eye on Indian territory, ‘had’ been given a befitting reply”.
He added: “India knows how to maintain friendships, but it can also look someone in the eye and retaliate and give an apt reply.”
One month later, the tide has turned and there was no mention of Chinese intrusions on Indian territory. The prime minister, in his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ address on 26 July, recalled how during the Kargil conflict, India “demonstrated her might” while the “whole world watched”.
The world is still watching, perhaps with greater interest. But, options available to the Vajpayee government in 1999 and the decision he took, are fraught with greater risk if reused.
With disengagement and de-escalation stalled at multiple points across the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh amid reports the Chinese successfully ‘shifted’ their perception of the line westwards into ‘Indian’ territory, the decision to not use harsh words he used for Pakistan on Beijing, underscores severe limitations of the prime minister’s muscular and militaristic nationalism.
Most of the time, such words are used as an ‘instrument’ to popularise his image within the domestic constituency and bares the perils of viewing issues and postures related to national security and territorial integrity through the political prism.
Why Does Modi Not Respond to China Like He Does to Pak?
Additionally, it is easier to whip up public passion directed at Pakistan because this has a civilisation basis and is central to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s politics. With China, such tactic is tough to establish due to the absence of similar perceived historical ‘hostility’.
The only issue which causes rancour in Indian hearts is the humiliation in 1962 that stemmed out of Chinese ‘betrayal’ of faith reposed by Jawaharlal Nehru. But then, the mortification in 1962 is used by the BJP as a device to denigrate Nehru and the political consensus he represented.
Significantly, instead of using unkind pejoratives for Pakistan’s leaders over decades, Modi on several occasions lyrically mentioned China’s historical bonding with India, with Gujarat and his village Vadnagar, especially.
During his visit to China in 2015, as well as, during the Gujarat elections in 2017, Modi professed his love for the country, its cultural heritage and Chinese President Xi Jingping personally. He certainly chose to ignore that Vajpayee's then defence minister, George Fernandes, termed China as India’s enemy number 1.
As a result, from his pursuit of ‘norma’' relationship with Beijing which began with the evening when Modi choreographed a sway on the swing on the banks of Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad, the path now is challenging. He has to not just secure military and diplomatic honours from this round, but also safeguard his halo as an indefatigable leader.
When the ‘enemy’ outside is tough to tackle, it is almost SOP to give people a sense of 'participation' in the 'war' and of course, find the 'enemy' within. So "forwarding things out of sheer curiosity" on social media is sign of irresponsible behaviour because people indulge in this "despite knowing that it is wrong, we keep doing it".
The prime minister told listeners that battles these days are “fought not just on borders; they are fought within the country too, on many fronts simultaneously.”
The people of course are not unaware, that Modi himself, the IT department of his party, besides innumerable clones they spawned, are masters not just in disinformation, but also hounding voices of dissent, which fortunately the Supreme Court said just days ago, "cannot be shut down" in a democracy.
Big Message From PM Modi’s Address
The big message that can be inferred on Modi’s statements on the pandemic are that he is not a huge supporters of localised lockdowns being imposed by several state governments.
The prime minister intimated people that while the guard against coronavirus cannot be lowered and the battle has to be continued, people have to redouble efforts to revive the economy.
Without taking people into confidence of the government’s plans in this direction, people were directed to use "sheer perseverance" in whatever sector one is engaged in, in order to take it to "greater heights".
The prime minister did not spell out new plans being considered to contain the pandemic even as daily fresh cases have risen by almost 50k and India is beginning to soar on global charts. This suggests that government is content in pointing out that recovery rate and mortality rate is "better compared to other countries".
Previously, India's 'better' situation, relative to other nations, by a different parameter – total number of – was pointed out. Statistics can act as a tool for the State to present half-truths, but not for people facing the brunt of the pandemic and a ruined personal economy.
With little cause to cheer, Modi provided the ‘good news’ of Suriname’s new President starting his oath with Vedic Hymns. In less than ten days, Modi will join Bhoomi Poojan of the Ram temple at Ayodhya.
Plans are underway feverishly to begin work on the Central Vista project shortly. Religion and pride are certainly prime objects on national showcase. But once again, every religious festival was not mentioned.
While much was stated about Raksha Bandhan, Id-ul-zuha or Bakr-Eid was glossed over. Not that, after so many years, one expected such a mention.
(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. He has authored the book ‘The Demolition: India at the Crossroads’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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