How much more?
Difficult to answer is that question, yet it is on millions of Indian lips after the killing of five soldiers along the Line of Control in Poonch. The families of the military martyrs, their comrades-in-arms, would certainly be justified in wondering if they were mere cannon-fodder since Pakistan has consistently been getting away with this. However, even those de-linked from military affairs would be asking for how long would India accept being seen as a soft state.
It is this impression that has emboldened the Chinese to multiply their incursions across the disputed boundary and establish a presence in the Indian Ocean region, the Sri Lankan navy to be bellicose with Indian fishermen in the Palk Straits… And that translates into more aggressive posturing on the economic and diplomatic front too. Not for a moment is this to endorse the jingoistic calls for badla that come so easy to opposition politicians; rather we commend the military leadership for the professional maturity not to get caught up in retaliatory, escalatory action. But the government must deem itself duty-bound to restore some credibility to the nation&’s image and honour, both domestically and internationally.
Thus far the diplomatic option has been preferred, but the talk process remains linked with the peace “holding”. When things heat up, South Block regurgitates the line that “there can be no business as usual”: only to dilute it before Pakistan understands the full implications. Just consider how Nawaz Sharif has been lauded even before he proved himself to his own people. That adds to the impression that India is clutching at straws, a case of one-way traffic to find favour across the Radcliffe Line.
Now there is speculation if the recent spurt of activity on the LOC is GHQ Rawalpindi&’s way of telling Sharif where his writ ends, or a precursor to what it is in store after “the west” spinelessly pulls out of Afghanistan. Fair enough, but surely the focus of the debate should be making the diplomatic action forceful enough to compel Pakistan into responsible management of its crises? Whether the proposed round of talks and prime ministerial interaction in New York proceeds or not is of limited relevance: a combination of diplomatic and military moves must be choreographed to ensure that Pakistan “behaves” ~ the Indian people are entitled to demand that. Ideally a campaign should be mounted to bring international pressure to bear on Pakistan, but that would assume India wielded some clout on the global stage.
Alas, under UPA-II, all pretensions to international relevance have evaporated. Domestic non-performance has a global fall-out: China and Pakistan have no fears when “pushing” border issues since India seldom sets for itself an inviolate Lakshman Rekha.
Appalling as the condition of national highways are in West Bengal, the state government appears to have been caught in a bind with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) handing over the vital task of maintenance to the state. The reason the Central entity has thrown in the towel could well hobble the state’s endeavour as well. As reported in this newspaper, both expansion and repair of the highways that straddle North Bengal ~ the ruling party’s latest electoral acquisition ~ have been held up owing to the government’s hands-off policy towards takeover of land.
These highways are pivotal to the growth of the region’s economy; and yet connectivity has been affected from one town to another across the six northern districts ~ Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, Malda, North and South Dinajpur. Four-lane highways remain a far cry and without the requisite expansion, urgent repairs can only be in the nature of a patchwork quilt. The land issue, which has been the disincentive to NHAI’s plans in West Bengal, will confront the state government no less, let alone the prospective investor despite successive tamashas at Haldia and more recently in Mumbai. To summon the language of the metaphor, the state might skid in the same pothole as did the NHAI.
Handing over of responsibility is unlikely to bring about a tangible change on the ground. Sad to say, a matter of terribly important public purpose has hit the bumps as it were. As many as three national highway projects have already been abandoned because of the unavailability of land ~ NH31D from Jalpaiguri to Sonapur in Alipurduar, NH35 from Barasat to Bongaon, and the ambitious plan to expand as many as 18 state highways to four-lane stretches. Uncertain too is the fate of NH34 that was intended to connect Kolkata airport with Dalkhola in North Dinajpur, not to mention the Barasat-Raichak road that was abandoned earlier.
The state needs to take a call on the land policy pertaining to highways. Not that a huge tract is required; a formula can yet be worked out considering the urgency of the matter which has a bearing on the lives of people and inter-state commerce. Whether or not the Chief Minister had to cancel a programme in Jalpaiguri because of the potholed national highway need not be the singular determinant for positive initiative.