Chetan Bhagat uses sophisms to advance an argument for surrender
So how many cliched sophisms can you squeeze into one 900-word op-ed piece? Chetan Bhagat manages to do five. More than a defence of the prime minister as it announces itself to be, his op-ed in Hindustan Times (linkthanks Rohit Pradhan) is merely a series of lazy arguments and an intellectual superficiality that is more suited to a discussion of Hindi films, cricket matches and cafeteria-gossip, not the grave issues surrounding geopolitics, foreign policy and national security.
Mr Bhagat begins with a profound misunderstanding of “our attitude”. Instead of reconciling with Pakistan, he says, Indians want to “teach Pakistan a lesson” and put them in their place. Now assuming this is true, does Mr Bhagat pause to examine why? Is it perhaps because Pakistan has devoted itself to damaging India right from the word go? Reconciliation is not a rational response towards Pakistan until the time it unequivocally transforms itself into a country that is at peace with itself and its neighbour. Yet, the story since 1998 at least is one where India has made repeated attempts to reconcile—at political and popular levels—and on each occasion received a dagger in its flesh in return. So yes, bashing Pakistan might be considered patriotic and make good politics, but for good reason. Mr Bhagat doesn’t get into these reasons, of course, because they wouldn’t lend themselves to his conclusions.
The second sophism that Mr Bhagat uses is that ‘every Indian’s future is inextricably linked to Pakistan…because of what India spends on defence.’ This is not the (flawed) “we can’t change our neighbours” argument, it’s not even the (flawed) “guns vs butter” argument. It is a (flawed) “let’s submit to our neighbour’s blackmail” argument. It is disguised as (or confused for, if you want to be charitable) a guns-vs-butter argument by pointing to the opportunity costs of defence expenditure. But it sounds plausible for only as long as it takes you to realise that there are opportunity costs of non-defence too. Ask the Morioris, if there are any left to tell the tale.
A reasonable case can perhaps be made around the concept of a peace dividend—that giving Pakistan something would result in a lower defence expenditure that would in turn allow India to channel the ‘savings’ for development. That depends on what is the “something” that would satisfy Pakistan, and whether the act of giving that something away will actually result in a net positive dividend. Instead, Mr Bhagat asks “how badly do we want Kashmir?” As if giving away Kashmir would automatically lead to the building of colleges, irrigation projects, roads and power plants. This is the third sophism—the plausibility of which lasts only as long as it takes for you to listen to a Hafiz Mohammed Saeed’s speech. Giving in to Kashmir fatigue is a terrible idea. Mr Bhagat doesn’t bother to explain just conceding on Kashmir will lead to lower defence expenditure, less more colleges and roads. It’s a double sophism, actually, because Mr Bhagat presumes that government expenditure is required to build colleges, irrigation projects, roads and power plants. You know, just like it was government expenditure that put phones in almost everyone’s hands.
You should really put up your hands when you see India described as the land of Buddha and Gandhi which has somehow lost its peace goals, the fourth sophism. India’s national symbol is not The Other Cheek. As much as Buddha and Gandhi, this is also the land of the Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Arthashastra—treatises that reveal a sophisticated approach to statecraft. These books do not advocate peace at any cost. Even Gandhi drew inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita.
When you don’t have to support your argument with evidence, you can just about say anything you like. Like, for instance, “we need to have peace…because we can’t afford to fight or stay prepared to fight for the next 20 years.” How does Mr Bhagat arrive at this extraordinary conclusion? If India struggling at economic growth rates of 5% or lower could afford to fight and stay prepared for the last 20 years and yet achieve over 8% growth today, surely, it can more easily afford it now? To use Mr Bhagat’s own analogy, if you could afford a security guard when you were poorer, you certainly can afford him now when you are richer.
The byline identifies Mr Bhagat as the author of The Three Mistakes of My Life. With this op-ed he’s made one more.