Solidarity for Devyani: Will India remain as 'strong' after polls?

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The Devyani Khobragade row has given a perfect opportunity to the BJP to go on an all-out attack against the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The principal opposition party has adopted a two-pronged strategy to corner the UPA on the issue. On one hand, it would attack Singh for allegedly failing to secure India's interests abroad and on the other, back its own prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi as a more powerful leader and in the process, revive the demand to grant him a visa.

The BJP has displayed its political skill by linking the 'no visa to Modi' issue with the UPA government's alleged failure on foreign policy issues. Nationalism sells, particularly during elections, and the Khobragade row just four months ahead of the national polls has given a big opportunity to the competing political forces to get that much extra mileage. It is not surprising that both Modi and Rahul Gandhi declined to meet US delegates to send a message about their concern with the protection of the nation's dignity abroad.

Lifting weight in the public doesn't make us a hard power

The UPA government has also been trying its bit to improve India's soft power image abroad. The sailor jailed in Togo was got released on Wednesday after a strong retaliation was made against the USA over the diplomat row. These say that New Delhi is focussing on foreign policy issues ahead of the national polls.

Now, one would like to ask whether this nationalism is here to stay or is it just a pre-poll game which is going on. India is an emerging power in the international arena but still is considered a soft power.

The territorial nationalism that the Congress leadership preached during the days after independence was weakened over the years by repeated border confrontation with Pakistan and China and the cultural nationalism promoted by the right-wing forces like the Sangh Parivar and BJP gained prominence subsequently.

In 1999, the then NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee returned to power after defeating Pakistan in the Kargil War.

A State, particularly a developing one which has to cater to several day-to-day problems, always prefers an external threat ahead of a national election so that it can prove its worth before the people and win an informal endorsement. This is what happening in India at the moment. The mercury has been rising since January this year when two Indian soldiers were beheaded by Pakistani troops at the Line of Control.

New Delhi also had major diplomatic rows with countries like China, Italy and Sri Lanka. The prime minister, who is little heard at other times, was recently seen making a strong statement on Myanmar's encroaching on India's land in the northeast. So there is definitely a sense of intense nationalism which is gaining prominence.

But will it be equally intense once the polls get over? In 1986, Warren Anderson managed to leave India after a horrific gas leakage wreaked havoc in Bhopal. It was a year-old government of the young and ambitious Rajiv Gandhi at the Centre then. In late 1999, the same NDA government which had won a battle against the Pakistanis in Kargil was found wanting in the hijacking of an Indian aircraft. In December 2001, terrorists almost entered the Parliament House but for the heroic retaliation by our soldiers.

The massive mobilisation of troops took place at the Pakistan border in the next few months following that incident but terror attacks never stopped in India. Seven years later, the country witnessed the deadliest terror attack in its history. So, whether it's the Congress or the BJP, the flow of nationalism in India looks more to be a temporary outburst of sentiments well utilised by those craving for power and not a true transformation of the national character.

To become a hard power, India does not need to lift weights and flex its muscles in the public. It neither can afford to have alternate leadership bent to show a greater love for the country at non-poll times and sing in the same tune when election arrives.

The hyper-nationalism that the Indian political class is exhibiting at the moment is more because it is under pressure due to the competition for polls and media's assertion. On the ground, however, the real transformation in the character of an emerging power is still to be tested.

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