It is not often that the Congress makes a lot of sense these days, but it is difficult to find fault with its description of Manohar Parrikar as a “national embarrassment”. The defence minister’s recent spate of garrulousness sits at odds with the discretion and gravitas that his portfolio demands. The senior BJP leader must remember that before a party functionary or mukhya shikshak of RSS, he is India’s defence minister. His actions and words must be commensurate with that post.
Unfortunately, over the last few days since the Indian Army’s Special Forces carried out a covert operation to eliminate a few terrorists on Pakistan soil, Parrikar has carried out surgical strikes on our senses. Not a day passes without his inane comments flooding the media. Parrikar might be an exceedingly honest man and a hardworking minister in the Narendra Modi Cabinet but that hardly gives him the license to try and raise political capital out of a military offensive. The BJP has been accusing rival political parties of trying to politicise the surgical strikes but truth to tell, nobody has made the onerous attempt more than Parrikar himself did.
Some of his statements, like the one he delivered on Monday, challenge the boundaries of ridiculousness. Speaking at an event in Ahmedabad, the defence minister said: “The prime minister hails from Mahatma Gandhi’s home state and defence minister comes from Goa which never had a ‘martial race’. And then take this surgical strike. This was a different kind of combination. Maybe the RSS teaching was at the core.”
According to the Ministry of Defence website, Government of India, “the responsibility for national defence rests with the Cabinet. This is discharged through the Ministry of Defence, which provides the policy framework and wherewithal to the armed forces to discharge their responsibilities in the context of the defence of the country.”
Which part of his responsibility was Parrikar carrying out by ostensibly trying to credit RSS for a military offensive? His comments demean the role of armed forces — as rightly pointed out by Opposition parties — and the self-aggrandisement on display is inaccurate and conceited.
But Parrikar’s verbosity doesn’t stop at boasting about his sartorial brilliance, comparing the Indian army to Hanuman or stretching the limits of ridiculousness. Some of his other statements as defence minister are damaging to India’s security interests and run the risk of upsetting the flimsy equilibrium vis-à-vis Pakistan post surgical strikes.
Just a few days after the strike was conducted in the intervening hours of 28 and 29 September and Pakistan’s hot denial of the operation, Parrikar said, “Pakistan’s condition after the surgical strikes is like that of an anaesthetised patient after a surgery who doesn’t know that the surgery has already been performed on him. Even two days after the surgical strikes, Pakistan has no idea what has happened… If Pakistan continues with such conspiracies, we will give them a befitting reply again.”
This type of dialoguebaazi is well-suited for Bollywood potboilers, but thoroughly misplaced when it comes from a defence minister. As one of the key ministers in the Modi Cabinet, Parrikar should have respected the reticence in DGMO’s statement following the strikes which was aimed at ensuring de-escalation of tension with a nuclear-armed adversary following the strike. The operation carried a loud enough message, there was no need for the defence minister to rub salt in Pakistan’s wounds and risk forcing a retaliation from Rawalpindi.
It requires major suspension of disbelief to reckon that Parrikar was unaware of the delicacy of the situation. His blatant disregard from realpolitik needs, therefore, give merit to Congress’ statement that he is unfit for his role.