Image: Reuters/Danish Ismail
This came after seven military personnel and a civilian were killed earlier in the year in an attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot by a heavily armed terrorist group. The Indian government was heavily criticized for this attack, following as it did close on the heels of Indian prime minister’s friendship handshake with Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif. Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia had said, “"By going to Pakistan for a cup of tea, the Prime Minister has wasted six years of efforts of the UPA government to isolate Pakistan.”
Image: Hindustan Times
Eleven days after Uri attack (on September 18), Indian Army claimed to have conducted ‘surgical strikes’ against suspected militants across the Line of Control. Pakistan rejected the claim of the pre-emptive strikes, stating that India rather cross-border fired upon Pakistani soldiers, killing two Pakistani soldiers and wounding nine.
Following these incidents, tension between the two countries has escalated and several decisions have been announced by both the countries including proposition of sealing the border by the Indian government and a ban on Indian television channels and cinema by Pakistan. The Border Security Force (BSF) did not exchange customary Diwali greetings and sweets at the Wagah border, according to the news reports, which has also happened periodically in recent years.
News reports quoted him, "Pakistani artistes will get beaten up. Along with them, we will also beat up whichever producer or director is with them."
This happens months before the scheduled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections scheduled for February 2017. With just one MLA in the State Legislative Assembly, MNS has been lately losing popularity in the state it had enjoyed for a short while after its inception in 2006, following Raj Thackeray’s exit from the traditionally belligerent and parochial, Shiv Sena.
The party, known for its Marathi chauvinistic stance targeted film director Karan Johar’s upcoming Diwali release Ae Dil Hai Mushkilwhich starred Fawad Khan. Fearing the party-style vandalism, Cinema Owners’ and Exhibitors’ Association of India (COEAI) called for a ban on the film citing presence of the Pakistani actor. COEAI president Nitin Datar reportedly said the ban would spare greater losses producers and exhibitors would have suffered from vandalism had they screened the movie.
While the ban wasn’t official, the central and the state government kept mum on the subject until the movie’s producers met with the home minister Rajnath Singh.
He said, “When I shot my film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil - in September to December last year - the climate was completely different, the circumstances were completely different. There were efforts made by our country for peaceful relationships with the neighbouring countries and I respect those efforts then, those endeavors then, and I respect the sentiment today. I understand the sentiment because I feel the same. Going forward I would like to say of course I will not engage talent from neighbouring country given the circumstance.”
Despite the apology, MNS didn’t budge. Further Khopkar threatened, “If any multiplex operator dares to screen the film, they (operators) should remember that multiplexes are decorated with expensive glass sheets.”
It was only after home minister Rajnath Singh promised police protection and assured its release to the film producers, the government’s stand got clear.
However, the highlight of the meeting remained the extortion of money claimed by the MNS in the name of the Army Welfare Fund in a deal which was brokered by none other than CM Fadnavis. At the state level, chief minister, Devendra Phadnavis belonging to the BJP has been accused of privileging the MNS to ‘teach its recalcitrant political ally, the Shiv Sena a lesson.
Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar did his bit to colour the controversy.He first said it was the BJP government that had made the Army realise its strength. This was an insult to the Army. At another forum he noted it was the RSS training that Mr Modi and he both had made the “surgical strike” happen. This gave the Army’s action a communal colour.
The Army Welfare Fund Battle Casualties was started as a centralised fund, to accept donations and contributions from organisations and individuals, and to be managed by the adjutant general branch of the Army.The assistance from the fund is meant to be in addition to the existing schemes for relatives of soldiers who die in battle. An SOP in this regard was approved by the Defence Ministry last month.
The ministry’s statement had said contribution to the fund must be voluntary in nature, to be used exclusively for “Next of Kin of Battle Casualties”. The ministry is considering a proposal to make contributions to the fund eligible for tax exemption.
Media reports later claimed that the Army has refused to accept the 5-crore amount to be donated by the movie’s producers.
Shiv Sena – BJP’s partner in power at the state level too criticised the deal, and party president Uddhav Thackeray reportedly said, “The Indian Army has its self-respect. So, it does not need any money eked out of extortion.”
Deccan Herald said in its editorial piece, “When a government enters into a deal with a law-breaker and forces a citizen to meet his wrong and illegal demands, the rule of law breaks down and the law of the jungle takes over.”
It further wrote, “The MNS’ threat to disrupt the showing of the film was a challenge to the rule of law which the government is duty-bound to uphold. That duty is part of the state’s contract with the people from which governments derive their power, authority and legitimacy. This contract was not only violated but the citizen was made to pay a price for exercising his freedom guaranteed under the Constitution, and a legally elected government facilitated and underwrote the deal.”
Senior journalist Manu Joseph wrote in Hindustan Times, “The BJP government, by appearing to negotiate with Thackeray, greatly diminished itself. When the Indian middle-class wished for a strongman to lead the nation, what they meant was that they wanted the government to assert its legitimacy and create order. It is amusing that the issue of nationalism should make the BJP, which rules both the Centre and Maharashtra, choose the path of timid placation instead of giving Thackeray the AAP treatment, which is the act of shoving an adversary into prison. It is possible that the BJP is not as scared of Thackeray as it is of the AAP.”
While on the other hand, some experts are seeing it as a strategic move by BJP to strengthen MNS to be used against the common rival Shiv Sena in the upcoming BMC elections.
However, for the public, in a sense, the ruling party in Maharashtra has come out of this controversy as subservient to goons/bullies and Raj Thackeray emerged as the self-pronounced victor. Ironically while, the two may appear to be on opposing sides today, the MNS is only aggressively following what the Shiv Sena had begun in the mid-1980s—the infamous incidents of ‘digging up the cricket pitches’ to prevent Indo-Pak matches and prevention of singer Ghulam Ali’s concerts in Mumbai, as some examples of this street bullying and jingoism.
Many army officers, who reluctantly had to participate in the festival this year, were unhappy at the attempt to force a political meeting on armymen. “We’ve no business here. It was purely a political meeting. If they wanted to honour the jawans, they should have come to the units,” one military officer told the Outlook correspondent Rajesh Joshi (Outlook, August 9, 1999).
A VHP brigade led by its president Vishnu Hari Dalmia, working president Ashok Singhal and senior vice-president Giriraj Kishore , visited the Army Base Hospital here (New Delhi) this evening for the installation of 18 air-conditioners the organisation had gifted. They also very thoughtfully used the opportunity to distribute copies of Tulsidas’ epic to the convalescing soldiers. The copies were distributed irrespective of the recipients’ religious persuasion’.
The Congress and the CPM had rightly attacked the attempt of different segments of the sangh parivar to politicise the Indian army and to destroy its secular character.
The RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya (June 20, 1999 issue) advised Vajpayee to use nuclear weapons to settle what it considered to be a 1,000-year-old war between Hindus and Muslims. “The time has come again for India’s Bheema to tear open the breasts of these infidels and purify the soiled tresses of Draupadi with blood. Pakistan will not listen just like that. We have a centuries’ old debt to settle with this mindset. It is the same demon that has been throwing a challenge at Durga since the time of Mohammed Bin Qasim. Arise, Atal Behari! Who knows if fate has destined you to be the author of the final chapter of this long story. For what have we manufactured bombs? For what have we exercised the nuclear option?”
The Panchjanya editorial was severely criticised by most national newspapers through their editorials. For example, The Times of India wrote in its editorial on June 23, 1999: “The Panchajanya editorial is a stab in the back far worse than what the Pakistanis have done in Kargil”.
- In the first week of July, the Bajrang Dal chief demanded a ban on the Quran claiming that Muslims cannot live in peace with others so long as they followed the teachings of the Quran.
- At a press conference on July 1, 1999, the then VHP working president Acharya Giriraj Kishore mentioned a Lucknow-datelined report which said noted Islamic scholar and rector of the Nadwat-ul-Ulema Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, also known as Ali Mian, had urged Muslims not to offer prayers for Indian troops fighting in Kargil. The report, was subsequently proved to be entirely baseless.
- And Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray decided to target Dilip Kumar demanding that he should return the Nishan-e-Imtiaz that he had got from Pakistan. Many newspaper editorials condemned this hounding of Dilip Kumar.
During the Ahmedabad riots, the Bajrang Dal chief of Ahmedabad was arrested for trying to set the Bhagyodaya Restaurant, owned by one Imdad Ali on fire. While trying to set the restaurant on fire, the Bajrang Dal chief himself received severe burn injuries. In an editorial the Jansatta (Hindi), published from Mumbai, the paper cited how Hindu communal organisations had been deliberately provoking Muslims using the pretext of the World Cup Cricket and the subsequent Kargil conflict. This, said the Jansatta editorial, was the reason for the Ahmedabad riots. Besides, as reported by several papers from Gujarat and Mumbai, the return of the dead bodies of jawans from Gujarat for their last rites by the families were converted into political rallies by the BJP, the saffron flag aflutter and the shouting of anti-Muslim slogans.
Insisting that the law should apply equally to all, the civilian government's representatives at the meeting gave warning that Pakistan risked international isolation if the security establishment did not take the recommended course of action, according to the report.
The report came against the backdrop of heightened tension between the two countries, sparked an uproar and the government called the report false, holding an inquiry against the journalist. Almeida, who was leaving for abroad the next day, was barred from leaving to help in a probe into how "inaccurate" details of a crucial security meeting were leaked to the media. The journalist’s name was put on Exit Control List (ECL). However, owing to the flak of several including Amnesty International, the travel ban on the journalist was lifted, according to the news reports.
According to research conducted by Arkansans State University, USA, highly politicised military structures among transitional states have a deleterious effect on the quality of democracy. More specifically, if the military has institutionalised its role in politics as being interventionist, the likelihood of democratic consolidation becomes difficult.
Fortunately, following the ADHM controversy, Indian army spoke up for itself and refused to be a part of the brazen attempts by supremacist right wing organisations to colour the institution. Whether political parties will have the dignity to keep away from the Indian armed forces in the future is a question that only time will answer.
Hundreds of Adivasi church-goers across villages in Narayanpur and Bastar, Chhattisgarh have been experiencing boycott, intimidation and violence since December last year, forcing them to leave their homes and live in refugee camps. Reportedly, Adivasi districts across Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh is seeing a rise Hindutva mobilisation against Christians .