Cloudy, with a chance of Modi-isms

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that he gave the go-ahead for the Indian Air Force (IAF) strike on Balakot in Pakistan in February despite bad weather because he believed “clouds could actually help our planes to escape the radars” has implications that go beyond a certificate of ignorance that he has awarded himself on television. A cloudburst of trolls, ridicule, humour and criticism greeted the remark. It is not wrong for a prime minister to make errors, or even be ignorant about something, but it is wrong to parade ignorance as ‘raw wisdom’ and make it the basis for decisions on military operations. It’s all the more despicable when the attempt is to hog credit for something. Modi did a surgical strike on science and common sense when he said that radars would not detect fighters shielded by clouds. It is not very unexpected of someone who once proclaimed to the Indian Science Congress that Ganesha’s elephant head was the result of plastic surgery and that artificial insemination existed in ancient India.

Modi was suggesting to the nation that he was better in operational decision-making than the military professionals with whom he was presumably discussing the air force action. He has claimed credit for the airstrike in the past, and now he is taking credit for micro-managing it and deciding to go ahead against doubts expressed by the professionals. What should be of concern to the nation is that the air force officers did not correct the prime minister and let him overrule them on operational matters. According to reports, undertaking the airstrike in cloudy conditions limited the type of weapon they could use. This is not the best way to plan and conduct a military operation. Should the prime minister discuss details of his discussions with military commanders about a recent operation, and suggest to the nation that he is better than them in their job? That is what he did when he struck a posture of humility, perhaps for better effect, and claimed that he had no expertise in the matter but had relied on his “raw wisdom” to make the decision. 

The BJP first proudly put up Modi’s statement and then quietly removed it from the party’s official twitter page. Given the barrage of ridicule, the party found it difficult to defend it, though leaders and spokesmen, as is their wont, tried to give lame justifications and explanations. In the same interview where he talked about radars, Modi also gloated about having used a digital camera and email in 1987-88 to show off his tech-savvy. Neither of them had come into the market at the time and were most certainly unavailable in India until the mid-1990s. Desperate attempts at self-promotion, combined with ignorance, do not behove a prime minister.   

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