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I served in the Indian Army for 20 years, and ‘liberal’ Sagarika Ghose is wrong – War is not ‘elite bloodlust’

I am a liberal because I recognise that the only way to stop the blood of my comrades being spilt is by making it precious.

Is it an act of ‘liberalism’ to label anyone holding a different opinion ‘Sanghi’, ‘Bhakt’ or ‘Hypernationalist’ without going into the merits of the opinion itself? Does disrespecting the national flag or refusing to stand up when the national anthem is played imbue the person with a sense of liberalism? Is it an act of liberalism to defend those accused of carrying out or facilitating terrorist attacks on the parliament?

Is it an act of liberalism to deliberately ridicule every festival, every tradition, every practice of the majority community while providing justifications for practices by a minority, no matter how regressive?

Is it an act of liberalism on completely ignoring whatever good the government is doing?

This is in response to an extract from a book by Sagarika Ghose (socialite, daughter of the former Director-General of Doordarshan, wife of television personality Rajdeep Sardesai, and part-time columnist) published in The Wire. As someone who has served in the army for 20 years, and has been in the corporate world for 9 after that, I would like to address some of the issues talked about Ms Ghose in the extract.

I begin with the title of The Wire piece itself. I would like to point out to the editor that a soldier’s death is not “Celebrated” – its not a joyous occasion. It is commemorated. So, to answer the question asked in the title, Yes, celebrating a soldier’s death isn’t remotely patriotic. But neither is ignoring it. If a young son of the nation has laid down his life to ensure that the likes of Ms Ghose continue to sip her Bloody Mary without any explosions rocking her neighbourhood, it is a patriotic duty to ensure that the sacrifice doesn’t go unsung. Not for the sake of the soldier himself – I’m yet to find out if Valhalla has cable – but for those whom he has left behind.

There was no media jamboree in 1971. A war was won, the people were proud of their armed forces, and state-controlled broadcasters or newspapers controlled by a few rich men were the only media. How many men who died heroically in 1971 can Ms Ghose name without Googling? How many can YOU? Yet, when you think of Kargil, you think of Capt Vikram Batra, Maj Saurabh Kalia, Capt Vijayant Thapar, Subedar Maj Yogendra Yadav and many others. In 1971, we took and released 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war. 54 Indian prisoners of war are still missing. Yet, when Wing Commander Abhinandan was taken prisoner on 27th February 2019, he was released voluntarily by Pakistan two days later. It doesn’t take a bachelor’s degree in History from St Stephens, a Rhode’s Scholarship or an MPhil from Oxford to figure out what was different in the two situations. If Abhinandan had continued to rot in a Pakistani jail for another 30 years, it would not have affected the quality of Bloody Mary in Delhi. The ‘liberals’ sipping it in Delhi would have continued to label citizens’ demand for his release as “feudal warrior cults”, while his family would have faced agonising years not knowing whether he was dead or alive and whether they would see him again.

Ms Sagarika Ghose talks about war as if she’s witnessed one first hand, deriding the television coverage of it as “glamorising it as part of a militarist syndrome obscuring the blood, grime, the waste of lives…” The closest first-hand experience she’s had to war is probably clawing with others at a sale at Mark’s and Spencers. Unlike her spouse, who has some combat experience on the streets of New York. People like her hear big words and develop some notions during the years they spend in elite institutions, hugely subsidised by taxpayer’s money. Then they spend the rest of their lives making a living off selling trash based on these notions to cronies in their entitled ecosystem.

So, to put the record straight in the correct perspective – yes, war is bad. It isn’t noble, it isn’t something worthy of celebration. But peace is highly overrated too. We have been deluding ourselves into thinking we’re in a state of peace when actually, we have been at war since 1990. Pakistan has been slowly bleeding us in a low-cost option of spreading dissension and terror within our borders without actually having to confront us on them. So what people like Ms Ghose think is peace, is actually so only for them, enabled by troops who continue to die in Kashmir since 1990. Yet, till recently these deaths were relegated to 3 inches on page 14, or ticker tapes during prime time news – “Three soldiers killed in Kashmir”. More often than not, the nation wouldn’t even come to know the names of those who had died fighting for them. It was low cost for everyone except the families who lost their member forever.

But the so-called ‘hyper-nationalism’ has brought about a change in that state of affairs. When an Army camp in Kalu Chak was attacked in 2003, the nation took the deaths of a few officers and men, including a Brigadier, in its stride. This, despite the fact that the entire Indian Army was at that time, lined up at the border at a hair trigger’s notice to go to war. Yet when Uri and Pulwama happened, the nation wanted retribution. And while a nation that wants retribution can be a bad thing, when faced with an adversary looking at a low-cost option of continuing to bleed it through pinpricks, it is an extremely good thing.

Coming back to why I am a liberal (and Ms Ghose isn’t). I am far more conversant with the evil and horrors of violence than her. I have lost close friends and comrades to wars of various nature. I have seen their families devastated by bullets fired by a sneaky enemy whom the nation as a whole even refused to categorise as a full-fledged enemy. I have seen their names and heroic deeds being forgotten by all but the closest. I realise that war isn’t a choice, but a compulsion forced upon a liberal country like India by our fundamentalist neighbour. And we, as a nation, can choose to ignore the lives lost in this slow bleeding of our nation, as has been happening for almost thirty years. Or we can turn around and demand that each drop of blood be accounted for. We can demand that the cost of this blood be raised so high that the enemy thinks a hundred times before sending the next terrorist across. I am a liberal because I’m not deluding myself with the notion that by fraternising with the cocktail circuit of our adversary, the war will go away.

I am a liberal because I recognise that the only way to stop the blood of my comrades being spilt is by making it precious.

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A former Army officer, now a Learning and Development consultant, Author of 'Delhi Durbar 1911 - The Complete Story', 'Riding the Raisina Tiger', 'Brave Men of War - Tales of Valour 1965', 'In the Line of Fire' and 'Academy - Bonded for Life'. He was also part of the panel  engaged by Ministry of Defence for writing official history of India's participation in First World War. Follow Rohit on Twitter @ragarwal

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