The politically-administered intoxicant could not permanently sustain the exaggerated hype over the cross- border raid of September 2016. Now, the man who sold the “surgical strike” buzzword to the gullible politicians has come clean, and said the prime purpose of the action was to deliver a strong message across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir after the fidayeen assault on the Army’s installation at Uri. In some contrast to the Prime Minister’s frequent claims of a game-changing match-winner, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, presently GOC-in-C, Northern Command, who was the Director-General of Military Operations when the “action” took place, has said, “We didn’t expect the terror infrastructure to come down through surgical strikes alone. There are terror camps spread across POK, and some even in Pakistan. The strikes were meant to convey a strong message, and we were very successful in conveying that in the right manner”. He said this at an investiture ceremony in Udhampur on Thursday. Had that position been made clear three years back much controversy might have been avoided and the Army spared the needless criticism that actually compromises the national security effort.

The villain in that plot was never the Army, but the NDA leadership that projected the strike in glowing terms, essentially to create an impression of being ready to “take the fight to Pakistan” in contrast to the pussyfooting of the UPA. True that Gen Ranbir Singh could have “spoken out” earlier and drawn attention to previous missions of that nature, but few soldiers would make bold to openly “differ” with a Prime Minister: more so when promotion avenues remain wide open. It is to be hoped that the General has not risked his own advancement by being honest. After all the NDA has little discomfort with supersession, and Mr Narendra Modi hardly appreciates in-house clarification. It is also possible that with their limited exposure to military matters, the spin-doctors in the PMO equated “surgical strikes” with a magic wand and thus went to town with a term commonplace in military parlance. That would be in harmony with the present government’s penchant for slogans and “catchy” titles. The core issue is not one of terminology however. Exploiting military accomplishments for political purposes is what must cause concern, for that is just a few steps short of politicising the military. Which is something even Indira Gandhi could not do since General TN Raina did not “play ball” with her and Sanjay when the electorate rejected her in 1977 after the Emergency. It is true that some critics would insist that some “Chiefs” are already on the way down, yet preserving the apolitical character of the Indian military must become an article of faith in the democratic polity. It cannot afford any emulation of the role played by GHQ Rawalpindi.