First Person | Intellectual Deficit

When the going gets tough, draw a comparison with Pakistan and feel good

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

In early April, I met the manager of the camp office of the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple Trust in Ayodhya. We spoke on a number of issues pertaining to the construction of the Ram temple and the human cost involved in the transformation of the mofussil town into a major pilgrimage centre. “Let me put it this way,” he said. “The people of Ayodhya are sacrificing their present for the future of the town.”

The conversation gradually veered to the state of the nation and the present government. Expressing concern about the economic situation in the country and the danger of prolonged unemployment among the youth, the elderly manager said with a broad smile, “But at least we are not as bad as Pakistan. There even the middle class is forced to cut down on food and fuel, forget about the poor who are starving.” I smiled, indulging him in the comfort he seemed to draw from comparing India with Pakistan. After all, it is not his job to understand and reflect upon geopolitics. His area of expertise is the temple and the process of its construction. And he had sound perspective on that.

Unfortunately, people like him, who have both understanding and perspective on their chosen subject are a rarity in today’s India. Even the self-professed domain experts rarely go beyond regurgitating government issued propaganda. Needless to point out that their favourite subject is Pakistan. Not only because it is easier to look better in comparison, but also because the favourable comparison satisfies a deep-seated need to claim superiority.

A recent invitation to a day-long conference, described as the Chanakya Dialogue, reminded me of my conversation with the temple trust manager. If the chief of defence staff and the two serving chiefs were not participating in the conference, I would have ignored it. But when India’s top military minds, those on whom the nation relies upon not only for its security but also for policymaking, decide to participate in a discussion, it certainly merits close attention. One of the sessions at the conference was ‘An Imploding Pakistan and its Impact on India.’

When I entered journalism in 1994, it was commonplace to find expert articles projecting Pakistan’s implosion. However, in the decade of 2000, coinciding with Pervez Musharraf’s term, the frequency of these articles reduced substantially. Perhaps, because India and Pakistan were engaged in multi-level conversations with one another, and most experts from both sides were enjoying five-star hospitality of Track II conferences across the globe, there was lesser motivation to predict Pakistan’s implosion.

But wonders of wonder, Pakistan did not implode. Neither when Indian experts were predicting it, nor when they stopped predicting it. And today, once again the experts are back at anticipating Pakistan’s implosion and its impact on India. Remember, for over a decade, the same experts were predicting that Pakistan would divert Afghan Mujahids to Kashmir once the US troops withdrew from Afghanistan. That didn’t happen either.

So, here’s a question. Why are our experts, the so-called strategic and intellectual capital of the nation, stuck in a time loop? Are they simply incapable of thinking beyond their prejudices or do they not have the capacity to think at all, hence it is convenient to recycle old ideas? Or worse, like the government, do they believe that peddling rhetoric is a good device to distract people from the daily growing heap of policy failures?

At a time when the world is witnessing unprecedented geopolitical turmoil, what the Chinese refer to as once in a century change, our experts are obsessing about Pakistan’s implosion. China is in physical occupation of Indian territory, having unilaterally redefined where the military line runs in eastern Ladakh, and Indian opinion-makers are expending valuable time and intellectual resources on how soon Pakistan becomes bankrupt. High technology is not only changing the character of warfare but also reshaping relations between nations—chip war is not in the realm of fantasy—and Indian experts are waxing eloquent on prime minister’s charisma influencing the world.

The military leaders or military experts’ job is to give the best, even if uncomfortable, advice to the government. And in present times, given their goodwill and reach among the ordinary people, especially through social media, they are not only information disseminators but opinion-makers. Shouldn’t this put a responsibility on them to keep themselves abreast of developments in their area and reflect upon them? When asked to speak at a public forum, shouldn’t they attempt to spark debate through their ideas, which eventually may inform policymaking? If they talk the language of a layperson what is their expertise worth.

Of course, Pakistan has problems, but does our thinking community genuinely believe that India has no problem in the domain of national security to which government attention needs to be drawn through repeated public discussion? Are we so secure internally and externally that we can only talk of problems that others are facing?

Incidentally, the Indian wise man Chanakya, in whose name much wisdom is floated around, wrote in his advice to the king that a secure homeland and awareness of the external enemy is critical for the sustenance and prosperity of the State. And even more presciently, ‘A person who is aware of future troubles, and fight against them with his intelligence will be always happy. And a person who remains inactive (without working) waiting for good days to come will destroy his own life.’

If only those who live by his name had the time to read his work. They would then understand that the biggest enemy of the State is a sycophant.


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