Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a brand ambassador for brash Hindutva, has been controversy’s favourite child. His unrestrained public utterances may appear bizarre for the uninitiated but they serve a specific purpose of catering to the lowest common denominator among the saffron party’s support base. While the monk-turned-politician is not known for maintaining civility in expression, his recent remark describing the Indian Army as “Modi’s Sena” marked a new low even by his own liberal standards. It should not be dismissed as an innocuous rhetoric because it is alarming at multiple levels. First, the observation reflects shameless politicisation of an anti-terror operation. Second, it exposes a disturbing tendency to seek political ownership of the military. It must be remembered that a soldier’s allegiance is to the Indian State and not to any political party. It is clear that the BJP leadership is keen to garner electoral mileage out of the Balakot aerial strike, targeting terror training camps deep inside Pakistani territory. For a party that has made muscular nationalism, security and unbridled Hindutva as its core campaign themes, discretion and nuance in public discourse will be least appealing. The leaders like Adityanath provide a belligerent push to the election-eve narrative that glorifies Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the lone saviour standing between India and the terror monster out to devour the country.
Despite the serious implications of his remark, made at an election rally near Ghaziabad, the Chief Minister was let off by the Election Commission with a mild warning that he should desist from making such statements in future. Any political propaganda over the actions of defence forces must be curbed with firmness. Understandably, Adityanath’s remark evoked indignation in the defence forces themselves with retired chiefs raising objections and a former navy chief complaining to the Election Commission. India’s armed forces are known the world over for their professionalism, neutrality and dedication. They do not comprise a private force belonging to an individual or a party but owe their allegiance only to the Constitution of India. The poll panel has imposed ban on the use of any material related to the defence forces in political advertisements and campaigns after the BJP displayed the portrait of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman alongside party leaders on banners and posters and also used the images of soldiers, planes and explosions as part of campaign material. More recently, the successful space mission, demonstrating the capability of indigenously developed anti-satellite missile (A-SAT), was also sought to be politicised by the ruling party leaders. The “satellite strike” was weaved into the campaign theme as it fits into the larger narrative of muscular nationalism. It is deplorable to turn into political propaganda what was essentially a scientific achievement.