The reality principle

This is particularly true because no matter how much outrage and helplessness we feel, our actual appetite for war is very limited, and in their hearts, most political leaders know this. Indian democracy's finest hour was not to succumb to any hysterical temptation in the face of 26/11. As much as it tried, the BJP could not politically capitalise on it. It is in this context that Sushma Swaraj's loose talk, besides being irresponsible, is politically stupid. It makes her appear less trustworthy as a custodian of power, not more. You could argue that we have made a virtue of necessity: simply renamed weakness as restraint. But once in a while our cautious prudence deserves more credit. It is a source of strength that has, all things considered, served us much better than illusions of force peddled by self-styled realists.

Give the prime minister's realism a little more credit. He has talked to Pakistan. Exaggerated rumours notwithstanding, he has not given away anything. This realism, following Vajpayee, has changed the international discourse on Kashmir. We have a long way to go. But it has given us the best chance we have had in decades of restoring some normalcy to Kashmir. It is such realism that has increased the asymmetry between Pakistan's and India's standing globally. Of course, we need options to deal with a situation like this. And our governance problems are gnawing away at defence capabilities. But it is not clear that stopping talks, trade or civil society relations gives us any more options. This engagement will give you more options in the future not less, which is why the Pakistan establishment abhors it. As that realist Bismarck knew, realism is about playing a long-term game of chess, not about the self-destructive Charge of the Light Brigade.

The writer, president of the Centre for Policy Research, is contributing editor, 'The Indian Express',

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