ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
Reader Mode
-A A +A

Limits of Triumphalism

Demilitarising the mindset of civil society requires ensuring lasting peace at the border.


The military action carried out by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in retaliation to the terrorist attack by Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pulwama has led to two obvious responses. First, many, including the national leaders from the opposition, congratulated the Indian armed forces for their action. On the ruling front, as expected, Operation Balakot, as it has been officially named, has immediately generated a sense of triumphalism among the members of the government and its supporters. The spokespersons representing the ruling party also lost no time in claiming that the military action in Pakistan was the fulfilment of the “public demand” for the Indian military’s retaliation to the terrorist attack in Pulwama. Second, action by the IAF in Pakistan has also been seen by many as a resolute indication of a unity of minds, of both the government mind and the public mind sharing the same desire to teach the attacker a lesson in order to avenge humiliation. This unity was evident in the public expression coming from the Indian Prime Minister: “Whatever is there in your mind is also in my mind.” This makes it necessary to determine the combative quality of the public mind and what its consequences are for the prospect of peace and harmony, both in society and between nations.

There are a couple of questions that one has to raise at this point in time. First, what is the guarantee that the public mind with a combative quality would work only outwardly, against external threats, and not inwardly, against its fellow members of civil society? Second, is it not the democratic function of the government in power in the embattled countries to demobilise its citizens who are in a combative mood?

The post-Pulwama public reaction is a case of the public themselves taking over the role of military think tanks and suggesting war, aggression, courage, and fearlessness. These members of civil society have transformed their minds into militaristic minds, except that they do not wear military symbols like a uniform or carry military weapons with them. Of course, they have other weapons that are deployed to generate fear among the Kashmiris, in the Indian instance, or foment hatred for the Kashmiris who are seen to be territorially associated with the terrorists, or even suggest their social boycott. In the Indian case, it is much more surprising when one sees a public personality suggesting the social boycott of the Kashmiris. Such public personalities are otherwise constitutionally responsible for seeing to it that all members of society live together in peace and harmony. In fact, those who are in favour of the suggestion of social boycott require it for the resultant ghettoisation of social groups so that violence could be practised against the latter. Such suggestions actually tend to erase the distance between the civil and the military.

Militarisation is a process through which civil society produces either the conditions for violence, or its actual articulation. The objective of civil society is to perpetuate non-violence and the democratic norms of tolerance and being reasonable to each other. The members of civil society are expected to keep in mind that defence forces have their own reasoning for dealing with external threat in terms of strategy, planning, and diplomacy. Civilians are not expected to take on this role of the defence forces. However, members of civil society seem to have crossed their limits in that they are suggesting to the defence forces reasons as to why war is the only option. They have not stopped at this and have gone on to find reasons for turning their “nationalist” anger towards their fellow members of society.

Tragedy becomes a necessary condition for the brandishing of triumphalism. In a peace-loving democratic country, there are limits to triumphalism. And, the government in such a country is expected to see to it that the citizens do not imbibe or cultivate this sense of triumphalism. The challenge before the present Indian government is to shun its designs, which are crafted to enable it to draw its sustenance by injecting a kind of combative consciousness or sense of revenge among citizens.

Combative nationalism leads to a vicious reproduction of “national humiliation,” which, for its resolution, leads to an acute urge for revenge and retaliation. Recovering or securing respect for a nation in a combative mode would logically require the reproduction of tension on the border. The urge to take revenge, thus, remains alive all the time and on both sides of the border. The governing class in both India and Pakistan needs to take the responsibility to temper the combative mind, wherever it is present and whenever it raises its head. The history of war has shown us that militarisation tends to overwhelm humanistic values.

Updated On : 5th Mar, 2019


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top