Modi’s Rabin Predicament and a Belligerent China

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s short speech this afternoon (June 17, 2020) to the nation on the border skirmish with China can be summed in just one word: “R-E-S-O-L-V-E”. “Our Jawans died fighting; their sacrifices will not go in vain,” he had said. One was reminded of a similar resolve when he had displayed exactly the same emotion after the Pulwama Terror strike and…

Resolute in Crisis

And Balakot happened.

Modi’s speech catapulted me back in time to a historical event. In July 1976, another Prime Minister in another country was faced with a crisis of similar intensity but a different dimension. A hundred and four Israelis were held hostage by terrorists at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. They were demanding release of a number of Palestinians held in Israeli jails on charges of terrorism. The deadline was fast approaching at the end of which, they had threatened to kill the innocent civilians.

The rescue operation 3000 odd kms away from Israel entailed flying through hostile Arab territories. An error of judgement could cost lives: lives of the hostages, lives of the rescue team. So he––supported by his Cabinet, and the opposition led by Menachem Begin––decided to capitulate to the terrorists.

For Rabin, 104 Israeli lives were precious. He also knew that his decision (to capitulate to the terrorists) would mean the collapse of Israel’s policy of not surrendering to terror––a policy it had taken years to build, at a formidable cost in innocent blood (Note: Israel has swapped terrorists for hostages in extremely rare cases). Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was caught between the devil and the deep sea.

Yitzhak Rabin

While the preparations were still on to negotiate the release of the hostages, Rabin ordered his men in uniform: “Bring me something we can implement.” Circumstances pushed the terrorists’ deadline back by a few days and the military came up with a daringly dangerous, but workable plan. There could be up to 20 casualties (hostages) under normal circumstances. But, if the terrorists had even a minute’s notice, everyone could be killed, including all the commandos.

While giving a go ahead to the military, Rabin kept the Israeli parliament informed. Without doubt, it was one of the toughest decisions ever taken by any Israeli government. Rabin made it clear that if the raid (Operation Thunderbolt, later rechristened, Operation Netanyahu) failed, the government would have to resign. But when the final vote was called––kudos to a very sensible and well-meaning opposition––all hands were raised in favour of the Prime Minister’s decision. None doubted his intentions; none asked him to pledge his head.

Rest is history.

Returning to the India-China standoff in the Galwan Valley. China has orchestrated the standoff at a time when the world, including India, is busy fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. China thought that it would be able to get away with ‘murder’. It was a miscalculation, for if, one were to go by unconfirmed media reports, China too has suffered substantial losses.

The Chinese Foreign Minister is now talking of de-escalation. Going by the antecedents, any such Chinese suggestion needs to be taken with extreme caution. In fact, looking at China’s most recent belligerence, it would be prudent to carry a gun in one hand when the other one holds out an olive branch. It has become imperative to prepare militarily for a long haul. While at it, the diplomatic corps could get into overdrive and help China arrive at its Champagne Moment (read post titled “China’s Champagne Moment”). Now is the time!

Think of it… today Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s situation is not much different from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s. In this moment of crisis, he (Modi) has displayed great resolve. We, the people need to stand by him. While the military and the diplomatic corps go for the dragon’s jugular, the least that the rest of us can do is: “TO-BE-OUR-BEST-SELVES.”

Need that be elaborated?

Again, like the Israeli parliamentarians in 1976, the elected representatives of the people of India will have an opportunity to prove their worth when they meet on Friday, June 19, 2020 to discuss the standoff at the behest of the Prime Minister. History will judge them (and Prime Minister Modi) by their actions on that day.

Postscript

After reading this post, one of my dear friends concluded that I was suggesting that the opposition parties must support Modi and that they would be judged in the future on that basis. He did not agree with the suggestion for the opposition parties to prove themselves. In his opinion, Modi must first win the trust of the people. He added that lately he has taken the people for granted. He has the penchant for being in the limelight at the expense of everything and wants people to believe that he can do no wrong. He needs to learn to be humble, promise less and do more. He can’t keep experimenting with lives of the people without being accountable.

Is Mr Modi listening? People aren’t just looking up to you; they are ‘watching’ you.

To my concerned friend: When I said ‘Modi’, I meant ‘the Prime Minister’. I would have made the same suggestion (to support the man in that office/ chair) had the PM been Mr Rahul Gandhi, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Mr Kejriwal, Mr Surjewala, Ms Mayawati, Ms Rabri Devi, or anyone else for that matter. I feel that it does no good questioning the leadership in the midst of a grave national crisis (two in this case: Covid-19 pandemic and the standoff with the Chinese). If people feel let down today or in the future, they’ll have an opportunity to replace him in the next general election. Let’s not forget, when time came, the docile Indian democracy showed the door to the likes of Mrs Indira Gandhi. My suggestion to the parliamentarians is to stand by Modi, the PM (not Modi, the man) when it comes to make a difficult choice in national interest. Remember, Winston Churchill was shown the door by the British people despite England’s victory in WW II.

Kandahar Hijack: A Revisit in the Aftermath of Pulwama

Among others, a phoenix that rises after almost every terror strike is the issue of hijack of the Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 (Airbus A300) en route from Kathmandu to Delhi on December 24, 1999. The crisis ended after India agreed to release Masood Azhar, along with some other terrorists. The released terrorists were later implicated in other acts of terror, like the gruesome murder of Daniel Pearl (2002) and the Mumbai Terror Strike (2008).

Hijacked Indian Airlines Airbus 300 at Kandahar

Therefore, after Pulwama, a recall of Kandahar appears to be a natural public impulse. The decision of the Bajpai Government to barter Masood Azhar for the passengers and the crew is being criticised yet again. Many are suggesting that India should not have let go of Masood; it is being lamented that India is paying the cost for that ‘wrong’ decision. It is fashionable to cite the example of Israel in dealing with terror strikes and their policy of never-succumbing-to-the-demand of the terrorists to release their brethren in return for Israeli hostages.

The fact is that Israel does have a rigid policy on the subject. Israel has dealt with situations on case-to-case basis. Kozo Okamoto, a member of the Japanese Red Army fighting for the PLO was caught alive by the Israeli security forces after the Lod Airport Massacre in 1972 (17 killed; 22 injured). Although sentenced to life imprisonment he (along with some PLO members) was bartered for a few Israeli soldiers held by the PLO.

In another case, Israel had almost agreed to release PLO men in its jails in return for the hundred odd Air France passengers (mostly Israeli) held hostage at Entebbe Airport (Uganda 1976). But the delay in the return of Idi Amin (the Ugandan dictator who was away) to Kampala gave them an opportunity to plan and carry out the daring raid to rescue the hostages (the daring Entebbe Raid). The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was supported by the entire parliament.

The Israeli leadership decides when, and when not, it is in Israel’s interest to accede to the demands of the terrorists and acts accordingly. The public and the opposition parties do not question the wisdom of the leadership––they do not pester the leadership either way.

Returning to Kandahar, the Indian leadership did what it considered best under those circumstances. Post Pulwama, it is unfair to criticise the then government and the security forces for their actions. Kandahar is past––lessons have been learnt and ways of dealing with similar situations in the future have been worked out.

In the current situation, all political parties have shown remarkable maturity by extending support to the government. It would be best to leave the government and the military leadership (who are in the know of things) to decide the best course of action.

Pulwama Terror Strike

A parting thought.

For Israeli state, it is a question of survival; they have reason to respond to situations the way they do. They also have full support of major world powers in everything they do. Our leadership and military has to go it alone. We’ll do well not to breathe down their necks as they plan and execute an appropriate response. Let’s not indulge in candlelight marches, burn tyres, and block roads to pressurise those who need to remain calm at this juncture. Think of it: such actions only cause global warming, traffic snarls and loss of productivity. Still worse, they might force a knee-jerk reaction. Let’s give the government and the military the elbowroom to act freely.