If Edwin Starr, a pop singer from the ‘70s was known for nothing else, he will be remembered for this rousing take on the futility of war, and how it puts people out. Recalling those pounding lyrics, War (what is it good for?) Absolutely nothing, I was put in mind of recent developments on our own borders, as skirmishes developed into air raids, and both India and Pakistan went a shade beyond eyeball to eyeball confrontation. The Indian forces have been literally spoiling for a fight with our unreliable neighbours, and post the Pulwama blast, the Government obliged with a bit of muscle flexing and machismo courtesy our fighter jets - the Indian Air Force giving terror camps inside Pakistan territory in Balakot, a taste of their own medicine. And the Pakistan defence establishment feeling obliged to retaliate. All the while leading powers of the world attempting to pour oil over troubled waters, mouthing platitudes and urging restraint on all sides. Been there, done that. As we go to press, things appear to be in a state of uneasy calm.
There has been plenty of static in our print and television media over the rights and wrongs of India’s aggressive initiatives across our western borders. The Opposition parties accusing the Government of cynically exploiting the situation with one eye firmly on the elections, which in itself is being seen as a mean and cynical ploy on the Opposition’s part, when all parties should come together for good.
It is laughable the amount of brouhaha that has been created, particularly over our television news channels. The opposition parties collectively clamouring for ‘proof’ that the air strikes were actually successfully carried out. The defence chiefs taking a discreet stance that they did what they set out to do, and will say no more, leaving the argy-bargy to the Government. The ruling dispensation diving headlong and quoting figures (250 terrorists killed, was it?), which was quite needless, as it gave the opposition a handle to ask for more evidence. All of which prompted further inscrutable ‘pictorial evidence’ and cumbersome explanations by channels sympathetic or antagonistic to the government. In sum, the naysayers were dubbed unpatriotic traitors while the government was being accused of pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.
I do not intend to add to this debate as I am largely apolitical, but I do wish to reflect on the various ways in which the common denizen within and outside the country is affected on a daily basis because of war like postures adopted by nations, who ought to put a bigger price on diplomacy rather than sabre rattling. Easier said than done, but there you go.
Tourism. The first casualty is invariably tourism. As an act of abundant caution, many civil airlines put a temporary halt to flights in and out of the country till such time as hostilities ceased. Those flights that did operate, were obliged to take circuitous routes bypassing land masses perceived to be potentially dangerous, leading to both longer flying hours and interminable flight delays. We have friends and relatives in the UK, Europe and the US who have cancelled their bookings to India entirely on the principle of ‘better safe than sorry.’ War (what is it good for?) Absolutely nothing.
The Sidhu Effect. You can never keep the garrulous Sardar out of the action. When claims and counter claims were flying around about the number of enemy casualties, the Congress MP and former India opening batsman queried the numbers and archly inquired if they represented trees or terrorists? Always ready with a punch line, our Sidhu, but how we wish he would take a leaf out of his boss Captain Amarinder Singh’s book on how to measure your words and speak only when spoken to. Particularly when Sidhu had only recently been roundly chastised for hugging and kissing his former cricketing foe and now great friend, PM Imran Khan, as well as a couple of Pakistani military bosses. War (what is it good for?) Absolutely nothing.
The Abhinandan Saga. When it was dramatically announced by Pakistan that the Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured in action, was to be released and a date set, all our TV channels rushed to the Wagah border to capture the seminal moment. Millions of Indians switched on their sets early in the morning, only to view odd security and defence personnel strolling around aimlessly. Nothing happened for hours on end, but everybody was glued. Finally the brilliantly moustachioed ‘braveheart’ crossed the border and was swiftly whisked off for a debriefing and medical check-up. A few seconds was all we got to see the hero of the hour. No wonder they dub the television set the idiot box. War (what is it good for?) Absolutely nothing.
The Elections are coming. The Elections are coming. Everything that politicians say or do at this juncture is immediately associated with benefits, real or imagined, likely to accrue at the hustings during the forthcoming General Elections, a few months down the road. We are talking about votes, silly. The ruling party is more vulnerable to such criticism because they have it in their hands to actually dole out goodies, whereas the opposition can only make promises. With an election looming, nothing can be timelier than a bit of aggression across the border. At least, that is the Opposition’s barb. War (what is it good for?) Absolutely nothing.
The World Cup. Not with guns but with bat and ball at the World Cup in England this summer. Gavaskar and Tendulkar give the thumbs up for Kohli to lead the charge against Pakistan, while Arnab on television froths at the mouth and dubs them turncoats. The angry anchor is at one with the bilious Major General Bakshi, ‘We want war’, they scream, like it is for them to decide. War (what is it good for?) Absolutely nothing....