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18 June, 2017 11:31:24 AM
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Season of name calling

Congress leader Sandip Dikshit compared the Chief of Army Staff General Rawat to a ‘sarak ka goonda’, a street goon backing his men’s action against stone pelters
Kumkum Chadha
Season of name calling

This, it seems, is a season of name calling in India. And this time it is not about one politician abusing another; this time it is about a line being crossed as never before. This time around there was a new low with people bitterly divided over the recent army action wherein uniformed men  used a stone pelter as a human shield to prevent casualties and bloodshed. An Army Major, it may be recalled, had during an ongoing election in Kashmir tied a stone pelter to the bonnet of his jeep and paraded him around villages. This, he said, was done with a bid to prevent stone pelters from attacking the Army convoy and rescuing security officials and civilians  from the mob who were hell bent on instigating trouble near the polling booths.Once the video went viral, battlelines were drawn. Opinion was sharply divided on the right and wrong of the action: whether the Major exceeded his brief or whether he did right. Matters came to a head with the Army Chief solidly backing the action and formally commending the Major’s action. That was a clear signal that both the Army and the Government approved of whatever had happened despite the hue and cry raised by some quarters. This followed guns being trained towards the Army Chief Bipin Rawat. It was perhaps for the first time in recent history that an Indian Army chief has been subjected to abuse. And it took a politician and a scholar to do that. 

Congress leader Sandip Dikshit compared the Chief of Army Staff General Rawat to a ‘sarak ka goonda’, a street goon backing his men’s action against stone pelters. 
This created a furore. The  Congress Party’s silence over what one of his leaders said became an issue. In fact channels were on an overdrive with some of them wondering whether Dikshit’s comment had Congress scion Rahul Gandhi’s sanction. Ofcourse Dikshit apologized but it was too little and too late for the damage had been done. 
Running almost parallel to this tirade was another. It was  academician Partha Chatterjee who did one worse: he compared the Army Chief to General Reginal Dyer: a British army officer who ordered  the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919 killing hundreds of peaceful protestors. 
Unlike Dikshit, he refused to apologize or backtrack on what he had stated. Adamant, he said he he sticks to his opinion and will not change it come what may:  ‘I have nothing to say. I have written what I have written. I am not changing it.  
Stating that Kashmir is witnessing what Chatterjee dubbed a General Dyer moment, he had in an article compared the Kashmir incident with the massacre in Amritsar in terms of scale and justification. The article argued that Dyer had also justified his action as needed in the line of duty and invoked the need to be innovative.
"But careful and detached reflection will show chilling similarities between the justifications advanced for the actions of the British Indian Army in Punjab in 1919 and those being offered today, nearly a century later, in defence of the acts of the Indian Army in Kashmir," Chatterjee wrote.
The issue is not about agreement or disagreement of the Army action or about whether it was right or wrong in using a stone pelter as a human shield. It goes deeper than that: much,much deeper. 
It is about bringing the Army down to a level of debate and mudslinging and abusing its Chief. It is about denigrating an institution that is above board and has the nation’s sanction to do what it takes to protect India from the enemy both within and outside. To drag it into a controversy is doing disservice to the country. Those intellectuals, scholars and politicians who are revolting are not questioning the Army alone but raising a banner of revolt against India. They are threatening the ethos of nationalism and spirit of patriotism; they are, even while claiming to be Indians, in one sense echoing what the enemy would be pleased to hear. 
Therefore this time around those professing the cause of  human rights are helping those working against India and using Kashmir as a fertile ground for destabilizing it. Therefore such voices must be quelled before they cause more damage than they already have. That apart, a divisive opinion about Army’s actions, good or bad, right or wrong, would only demoralize a force that is fighting all odds in the Valley. It is all very well to voice dissent but those decrying the Army need to stop and think and deliberate the tough task these uniformed men have ahead; they need to take stock of the lives lost and the challenge that lies ahead. 
This is the duty and call of every right minded Indian who must put the country’s safety and integrity before human rights and its alleged violations. 
A parallel story that has also played out is the denigration of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. Once again it took a politician to pull him down from the altar Indians have placed him in. 
BJP’s chief Amit Shah recently called Mahatma Gandhi a “chatur baniya” clever merchant to translate it literally. Shah said Gandhi knew the weakness of the Congress party and thus suggested its dissolution after the country gained independence.
Shah’s remarks drew flak. Non BJP parties pounced on him for denigrating the Mahatma: revered by majority of Indians. 
At one level Amit Shah was actually speaking the truth: Gandhi was both a baniya and clever. So Shah was merely stating a fact. Two, hailing from the state of Gujarat, being a baniya would be a qualification rather than a slur.  Gujratis are primarily traders and take pride in their business acumen. Therefore if Shah called Gandhi a bania it was probably in this context.  
That apart, the term ‘wily Bania’ has been used for Gandhi even earlier.  When he was alive, his critics often did. Therefore Shah was probably digging History.  
Irrespective, Indians are well within their rights to like, revere or slam Gandhi. He is, unlike the Army, not an institution but a human elevated to the status of a  demi god status. There are many who hold him responsible for the Partition. There are others who actually believe that he was given undue credit for getting India the freedom and letting his larger than life persona overshadow the contribution and sacrifice of the likes of Netaji Subas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh and several others. Therefore Gandhi can be controversial and may not necessarily resonate with the current generation of Indians. But as far as the Army goes, its status is above debate: unlike Gandhi: therefore as far as the Army is concerned there can be no compromise. Gandhi, despite his revered status, has often come under scrutiny. 

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)  

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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