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Wednesday 22 January 2020

The Line of Control: Familiar peak into Pakistan with leftist twist in tale

Happymon Jacob conflates xenophobia and intolerance with Indian nationalism while telling a story of Pakistan we already know

Happymon Jacob writes a very engaging book, The Line of Control. I purchased this book some evenings ago and could not put it down until I finished it. I needed about six odd hours to finish the book but not once did I feel bored or tired. In fact, when I had picked this book, I was in the midst of reading two other books, Kamleshwar’s Kitne Pakistan and Zaki Chehab’s Inside Hamas, but once I started reading this book, I had no desire to go back to these two.

The Line of Control not only deals with the lives/experiences of the officers and jawans living on both sides of the LoC but also provides a glimpse of the lives led by the civilians inhabiting these areas. The author writes with great empathy and understanding of their day-to-day trials and tribulations, caught as they are between the high politics of both nations.

An important reason why everyone needs to read this book is to understand the importance of terrain with reference to the LoC. When the great nationalists come and froth on television every night, arguing as to how we should go around destroying every available bunker of the Pakistanis (interestingly, a few of them are former infantry officers), we need to understand that India does not dominate all heights in all sectors. Further, the foliage and elephant grasses create operational problems when one seeks to check infiltration (of course, ably assisted by the Pakistan Army). The author also brings out the reasons for many ceasefire violations (CFVs), which can mostly be characterised as driven by tactical and local factors, though sometimes they may be strategic too.

The Line of Control
Publisher: Penguin; Author: Happymon Jacob; Pages: 288; Price: Rs 599

While the chapters and anecdotes about the author’s visits to Pakistan make for an interesting and fun read, and can be categorised as ‘adventure’, the curious Pakistan watcher in me was left wanting for more. You drink but you are not quenched. Many of the things that Pakistan’s army officers say in the book are well known to even cursory Pakistan watchers. Well, if the author is not self-censoring, reading the book only reinforces the long held view that, come what may, Pakistan Army will always continue to see itself as a force whose fundamental interest/job is to challenge India’s rise in every possible way. Of course, their tactics will vary based on situational exigencies.

Nowhere does the reader get a hint of any major rethink by the Pakistan Army about their views on India. “Inshallah, we will prevail” continues to be their belief and dogma. It looks like people like us, who have not visited Pakistan, have not missed much. After all, all you then have to do is read the Hilal every month (Thankfully, it is available online) and you know all you need to know about the thinking of Pakistan Army.

Where I differ with Jacob is what he writes in the last chapter. I understand he comes from a left-leaning persuasion, but I find his concern about the rise of ‘nationalism’ in India way off the mark. He is conflating xenophobia and religious intolerance with the noble sentiment that is nationalism. A nationalist in the Indian context is one who thinks about his/her nation first, not necessarily like a supremacist. And if you indeed think about the interests of your nation first, you would surely be clinical in analysing what those interests are and how to best achieve them.

Borrowing from the Kautilyan lexicon, it might involve saama, daama, danda and bheda! I would consider myself a hard-nosed nationalist with the motto “India First”, and I can see how the jingoistic stupidity of the so-called nationalistic media restricts freedom of action for the executive in achieving our national priorities and interests. I would characterise their use of nationalism for higher TRPs as faux nationalism (rather than nationalism) and those championing it as pretending nationalists. All in all, an excellent read. It also made me nostalgic about my own trip to the LoC. It was like re-living those moments again, including the lovely chai pakoras!

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