Balakot: A song of clouds and fire

Last Updated: Tue, Jun 25, 2019 11:54 hrs
IAF surgical strike

If you’re among the Game of Thrones faithful, you already know what happened at King’s Landing. If you pride yourself on not watching the show that has the entire world hooked, you don’t care about spoilers.

So here’s what happened: The Dragon Queen rode to war, after having her dragon roast one of her advisors for putting out that she’s not the rightful heir to the throne. The city surrendered after the dragon did some fire-breathing, and she had the chance to rule over beautiful buildings inhabited by humans and animals. As everyone waited for the victory march, she remembered her bestie screaming “Dracarys” (“Burn it all” in layman’s language) before the latter’s head was chopped off, and went on to destroy the entire city, turning it into a graveyard of burning corpses and broken bricks.

There’s another guy who has a greater claim to the throne. But he’s either in love with her or afraid of her or both, and doesn’t stake his claim or offer his opinions, even when he knows that he knows better.

The situation is starkly similar to what happened, by the Prime Minister’s account, in the war room ahead of the Balakot strikes.

Apparently, the “experts” wanted to postpone the strike, since the cloud cover worried them. Modi, who often boasts of having no education, went on to say he had overruled people who had decades of experience with this gem of “raw wisdom” – that radar technolody, in his raw and wise opinion, could not detect fighter jets through cloud cover. Pakistan, in his raw and wise opinion, would fail to spot Indian fighter jets thanks to cloud cover. Everyone in the room, he said, was confused, which is understandable. They agreed to proceed with the strikes, he said, which is not understandable.

Did no one in the room explain what the science behind radar technology was?

Did no one in the room apprise him of the other dangers of carrying out a tricky operation under cloud cover?

After the airstrikes, Pakistan said the only damage was to some trees near the Jaish-e-Mohammed camp, which India was targeting. India said the strike resulted in the deaths of many JeM trainers, senior commanders, and militants.

We cannot be sure who is right because the clouds prevented the launch of Crystal Maze missiles, which beam back footage as they strike their targets. The Air Force went with Spice munitions, and there is no footage of the bomb damage assessment.

Twitter handles, articles in the media, and Congress leaders have been taking potshots at Modi over his raw wisdom. But this issue merits more than snide remarks.

It merits our sitting up in alarm.

How can men who are experts in the field be overruled by one ignorant belief of the prime minister’s? If it is true that this was what transpired while discussing tactics, what does it say about their inability to contradict and correct such a dangerously ill-informed decision?

Dictators have traditionally made poor decisions. And they go down in history because too many people with better judgment choose not to challenge them.

The statements put out by the current government’s top leadership are reminiscent of the most vapid pieces of writing in the history of entertainment:

“Fire cannot burn a dragon.”

“You can’t handle the truth.”

“The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.”

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Those are lines that would make most writers cringe. But they are marketed by an industry that caters to the masses, and the masses have slavered and will slaver over them for generations.

The same exercise has been streamlined across the media and outreach programmes and even government legislation, until pseudoscience is given more importance than research, an imagined glorious past more importance than the undeniably inglorious present, WhatsApp forwards more importance than on-the-field news coverage, where a politician’s election goals are given more importance than the safety of the armed forces.

And so it is that there is a ministry to cater to naturopathy, homoeopathy, siddha and other superstitions – where taxpayers’ money is pumped into producing people who will prescribe “medicines” that follow no norms or standards, which are monitored by no governing body, and which are attributed to characters from the scriptures.

So it is that we have WhatsApp forwards, saying microwave ovens cause cancer since the electromagnetic waves are more powerful than X-Rays, and therefore we should all turn to wood stoves to save our lungs and brains. Well, a Class 12 student of physics could explain the wavelengths to you, unless the syllabus has changed – which it probably has.

So it is that we have presentations on aeroplanes in Vedic texts at the Indian Science Conference. Sure, we can talk about it, as long as there is a blueprint which explains how we can make a working model of an aeroplane in those texts. But we cannot talk about it with no evidence or even hypotheses of evidence to back a theory – that is not how science works.

This unscientific temper has been encouraged as “traditional”. Faith healing is “traditional”. And as proof of the superiority of Indian culture over all others, we are offered statistics on how many white people are learning Sanskrit. Chances are a much higher number is engaged in the study of Chinese.

The core principle of science – the challenging of a theory – is considered high treason. All we lack is a dragon to burn to death those of us who are not deemed loyal to the throne. And someone to take responsibility if things go wrong – if a missile hits a village instead of a terrorist camp, if several Indian army officers are brought home in coffins because the prime minister got mixed up between the technologies used in radars and torches.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

How Modi-haters became his PR angels

Why the Indian elections will always go wrong

When the people want a change

Abhinandan Varthaman: Hero, yes, but victim first

Tokenism won't stop terror attacks

Pulwama attack: When humans become symbols

The legislative dangers of election year

Priyanka and the inheritance of power

The G.O.A.T vote: When opinion offends

The hooligans in our homes

Why the Ambanis should rule India

Ten things the chowkidars failed to protect

Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: