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View: Nuclear bunker in Delhi, zeitgeist of achhe din

We in Delhi live expecting a nuclear attack the way people in Mumbai expect to be stuck in traffic.

, ET Bureau|
Apr 06, 2019, 09.09 PM IST
The sheer banality of offering a nuclear bunker along with indoor squash courts and poolside party spaces serves an important purpose: it is part of normalising a neurosis.
When the cover page of Delhi Times is, yet again, an ad for a residential complex of 4-5 bedroom aparments fitted with the usual amenities, some not-so-common facilities and a soaring, glitzy tower to house them in, Times employees nod in approval: if ad revenues are good, increments should not be stingy. But then you notice an extra-ordinary feature of this housing project: it offers a nuclear bunker. This, my friend, is what Germans mean by zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.

We in Delhi live expecting a nuclear attack the way people in Mumbai expect to be stuck in traffic or the residents of Chennai are resigned to giant cut-outs blotting the skyline. If you did not quite know this, despite bustling through the business of life in the national Capital, don’t be too hard on yourself. No one knew they needed an iPod till Steve Jobs unveiled one in October 2001, after he had already launched a version of iTunes for the Macintosh computer. A functional internet was in place, even if access to high-speed broadband was a privilege. The electronics was ready to mass-produce iPods. People loved music, listening to music and not listening to the guy in front was part of the popular culture. All it needed was the design and marketing genius of Steve Jobs to make a phenomenon out of the iPod, and later, the iPhone.

The neurosis is already in place, to make a nuclear bunker look like not just a good idea but something we just cannot do without. A climate of fear, the constant dread of an enemy poised to strike anytime anywhere, with the help of contingents of anti-national traitors standing ready to do their bit to break up the motherland, the ever looming presence of the soldier in the public discourse, with retired generals pulverising the enemy every minute of evening prime-time television, the army chief speaking like a politician (meaning, of course, with polished grace, total logic and relying on hard facts authenticated on Whatsapp), a dominant narrative in which anyone who dares to differ with the dominant narrative is automatically a traitor, deserving to be charged with sedition and thrashed in the courtroom, a high-priest of the gospel of the besieged and media outlets eager to spread the grim word — what more could makers of nuclear bunkers ask for?

The sheer banality of offering a nuclear bunker along with indoor squash courts and poolside party spaces serves an important purpose: it is part of normalising the neurosis. Have the barista pour you a flat white and, while sipping it, if the sirens go off, announcing an air attack, gulp down anti-national thoughts about why our brave airmen and fancy missile interceptors failed to fend off the menace whizzing towards you, and duck into the nuclear bunker. Come out once the attack is over, go back and finish your coffee and reach for that squash racquet. Did someone mutter something about nuclear winter, electromagnetic storms and radiation that Geiger cannot count? What you don’t know won’t hurt you, because you would be beyond this-worldly sensation.

Why blame this neurosis on an internal ideology of being under siege, of victimhood? Isn’t the Pak threat real? Do not Pak generals see terror as an instrumentality of strategic reach beyond what nuclear bombs, tactical as well as medium range missiles and the world’s sixth largest army offer Pakistan? Of course, the answer to both the questions is in the affirmative. But that does not mean that Pakistan’s capacity for mischief cannot be contained, if not quite neutered, without India drawing itself into a shell like a tortoise.

India has to be on guard against external aggression and against internal subversion. India has been doing both, quite effectively, over the decades; and Pakistan is hollowing itself out as a country that spends more on defence than it can afford, cuts back on essential services, not to speak of welfare, and will soon be forced to choose between popular revolt and scaling down of delusions of military grandeur.

The process began with the break-up of Pakistan, the creation of Bangladesh, India’s nuclear test of 1974 and steady accretion of economic and military muscle. The build-up of the Taliban, with CIA help to throw out the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, and the sponsoring of terror groups focused on Kashmir gave Pakistan’s ambitions extra rope. The spawn of religious radicalisation Pakistan encouraged to create recruits for jihad now attack Pakistan itself. As Pakistan battles all-round backwardness, religious extremism and social instability, Bangladesh has overtaken Pakistan in per capita income and on almost all indicators of social development. Only China’s support to Pakistan, designed to tie India down to South Asia, postpones Pakistan’s reckoning with the dead-end of its strategy of defining itself in hostility towards India.

India is perfectly capable of wearing Pakistan down, while putting down its offensive thrusts, including terror modules within India. After the 2008 Mumbai attack, Indian security agencies hunted down and destroyed all domestic terror modules. No, the problem is not that containment is not viable without India getting into a mental lockdown. The problem is the Hindutva ideology, which wants to redefine Indian nationhood as Hindu and portray all non-Hindus as potential enemies and second class citizens, and a political strategy of creating a sense of insecurity orchestrated by constant cries of external threats and internal treason. Insecure people look for heroes to save them. A hero has obliged without notable reluctance.

The house with the nuclear bunker attached is a manifestation of the spirit of these times, Achhe Din, the good times we had been promised five years ago.
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