Within days of the Pulwama terrorist strike, India has been unmistakably sucked into the intersection of three different story lines. Political reality suggests that these narratives will sooner than later intertwine into one.These distinct streams are already beginning to fuse into one another and metamorphosing into an emotional whirlpool, where rationality and reason are either in short supply, or completely non-existent.Pakistan Is Ensuring Modi’s Victory By Using JeM, Its ‘Sword Arm’Retribution & ‘Badle Ki Bhawna’On the first plane are developments related to the expected government response to the incident, both diplomatic and military. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues have left no doubts that retribution would be telling and lasting. He has however, declared that revenge for the attack will be decided by those in charge of the security and defence apparatus, at a time, place and form of their choosing.Modi ruled out a spontaneous tit-for-tat. Instead he embarked on a broadcasting spree across numerous parts of the country. Everywhere, he has reiterated what he first said – that those who perpetrated the Pulwama terror attack and those who backed them – by providing infrastructure support and resources – would have to pay dearly.Consequently, till the time there is no visible and successful action, a sense of anticipation will keep the sense of outrage alive in public memory and action. There is no approval for those debating if enhanced "surgical strikes" would bear fruit, given the experience of the September 2016 action not quelling terrorism significantly. The idea is to keep badle ki bhawna or a sense of retribution alive, until the action button is pressed.Covering Pulwama Attack: Has the Indian Media Acted Responsibly?How India Responded to Pulwama Terror AttackAt the second level is the social response within India, mainly in the north and western regions (also in other parts of the country, but with reduced intensity) and social media. On ground, this is the terrain which is predictably being raked by foot soldiers oriented ideologically on one side.Articulation of reprisal is being couched in salutations and homage to deceased CRPF soldiers. There is however, no doubt, that proxies for the terrorists have already been identified. For instance, reports of Kashmiris being either physically traumatised or verbally abused for no fault of their own.This is that facet of India where patriotism is synonymous with a unitary view of nationalism in which national identity is bolstered by portraying an imaginary ‘other’. The image of this ‘different one’ is dynamic, and there is no way of preventing her or his identity from subsuming everybody in a bigger community. There is no stopping this process or the people triggering the enlargement of targeted people, because the prime minister said that such expectations of the nation and of “doing something” was natural.Pulwama Attack: Modi Has No Choice But to Flex Muscle Before PollsRousing Passions & Evading ResponsibilityAs the election storyline develops, there is no knowing when marches being taken out to salute the slain soldiers will transmute into assemblies evoking passions along political lines, and bridge the narrow divide between culture and nationalism in this particular political discourse. Suddenly, the idea of the nation will become the 'hold-all' for every other concept, including hatred towards the 'other' and those who disagree.Language provides ways and means to goad people, and skilful politicians can do so seamlessly without ever being held accountable. The prime minister has used similar phrases in the past, most significantly in the past in 2002 (“kriya-pratikriya kas daur chal raha hai”, or, ‘the phase of action and reaction is underway’) and there is no denying that he has the ability to rouse passions while evading responsibility.For a political fraternity which shreds the Congress for allowing Sikhs in the country to be held responsible for Indira Gandhi's assassination, it is paradoxical that Kashmiris being targeted are precisely those who have tried escaping the vortex in the Valley and join the national mainstream.The Cyberspace of Hyper-Nationalism & TrollingAlso in the societal plane is the cyberspace where there is the new breed of the social media nationalist, whose service to the nation chiefly consists of uploading videos on YouTube, posting fake news, and trolling (read abusing) anyone or any institution for having a contrarian viewpoint – they are then declared either anti-national or not national enough.This is the literate, willfully-uninformed India who consider democratic spirit and dialogue the scourges of the nation. They hate everyone who show them the mirror because the truth hurts and is best skirted in the world of make-belief.Poll Dates Out SoonOn the third plane is the inescapable fact that, possibly in less than twenty days, the Election Commission of India will announce the schedule for holding polls for the seventeenth Lok Sabha. Although the model code of conduct would come into effect immediately, there will be no restriction on the intensity and form of nationalistic expression. A uni-dimensional jingoistic discourse has greater political potency than standard election rallies, where emphasis is on deliveries highlighted by the ruling party and deficiencies pointed out by the Opposition.The prime minister has declared that security forces have been given a free hand in reaching decisions. Even countenancing that there would be no political interference, it is difficult to believe that officers and personnel entrusted to take crucial decisions, would not be affected by popular sentiment and the political orientation of the government.Can Military Leadership be Oblivious to Ruling Party’s Poll Agenda?In the past, there have been instances of excessive judicial activism, and verdicts have been delivered with headlines and social expectations in mind. These were unanimously criticised, and declared a bane and not boon of elevated levels of social discussions. Are we certain that those who will plan retaliatory strikes in high-ceiling rooms of North Block or other defence establishments, are not going to be influenced by expectations of the vocal and visible section of society? Furthermore, to what extent can we expect the military leadership to remain oblivious to what would suit the ruling party most in the midst of elections?When mobs influence crucial decisions, logic gets warped. Conduct a straw survey and you will be asked to mathematically calibrate the Indian response to Pulwama on past basis. If 19 dead in Uri saw Modi retaliating with "surgical strikes", 40 dead in Pulwama must be more than double that response.Expectations get further elevated because the belief of what happened is based not on military briefings post-strikes, but on the basis of the celluloid version of the events.Multifarious Headlines, But a Monotone in the Political TheatreThe majority in the media, especially print and digital, will continue following their credo of presenting different facets. Thus, while varied headlines like ‘Ignore Pakistan, Focus on Kashmir’, ‘Win the Hearts of Kashmir’, ‘Battle on Many Fronts’ and ‘Pakistan Is Ensuring Modi’s Victory By Using JeM, Its ‘Sword Arm’ will be placed alongside those baying for blood across the border, such dialogues will be replaced with a monotone in the political theatre.It suddenly appears that Sonia Gandhi’s fears that the Congress had the “image of being pro-Muslim” has acquired a wider dimension, and they are trying to outrun the BJP on its ideological track. The recurring endorsement of the government perspective on the Pulwama terror attack and the solution to it, underscores how the entire narrative of the elections was altered in a span of few hours on 14 February.Opposition Must Up the AnteTime is running out for the Opposition to seize back the initiative it had prior to Pulwama. But to do so, these parties will have to display exemplary courage, and match Modi's lucidity when arguing that while the nation's security and dignity was paramount, this could not be achieved by brushing aside issues related to people's sustenance. Opposition parties have to argue coherently that a disadvantaged people in a monolith cannot contribute to the making of a strong nation.It would be a tragedy if a terrorist strike caused in part by intelligence lapse pushes away from the realm those issues which have so far been the focal point of the electoral debate, and it is instead contested on issues distilled from the present fog of irrational jingoism.(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. He has authored the book ‘The Demolition: India at the Crossroads’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached @NilanjanUdwin.)(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.) 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