Operation Buzzword


Operation Buzzword

In this last one month, two different metal bands separated by the Atlantic, must be bemused at the recent spike in hits on their social media pages. The first is a “space metal” band based in New York and the other a thrash metal band in Germany, and they are both named Surgical Strike. Maybe a curious bunch of south Asian online visitors to their pages, managed to stay on long enough to stream an old track or two and turn converts.

Rail all you will against the Indian government, but you’ve got to credit them with expanding our population’s vocabulary by two words. Prior to this, few people outside of defence and strategic affairs circles would have been aware of the phrase, “surgical strike”. Now you can hold a comfortable conversation with your autowallah on the subject, without resorting to hot-button topics like Salman Khan, and how shameless Indian girls and their boyfriends riding in autos are.

Predictably, not everyone is a big fan of the term. In the Deccan Chronicle, Mohan Guruswamy labelled the attack on Pakistan an act of “political charlatanism”. This was misuse, he felt, of the nomenclature for a kind of military action that takes place frequently without any fanfare. This sentiment was echoed widely by everyone, including a recent panel discussion on Rajya Sabha TV. (The discussion’s title, “LOC strikes: Has rhetoric taken over discourse?” tells you all you need to know on the subject.)

Now that the dust has settled on Uri, you can’t help but wonder: Why didn’t the government call it what is was… a raid?

I’ll tell you why. Because #TheRaid is not half as glamorous and sexy as #SurgicalStrike. #TheRaid is less Ajit Doval and more Somnath Bharti. Nobody likes a raider. Everyone wants to be a surgical striker. It’s precise, sudden, and above all, alliterative. It’s the kind of thing that makes a great hashtag and gives the janta a shiny new toy to toss on social media. The other new toy last month was “terror launch pads”. What indeed are those anyway? When did we upgrade our military lexicon to turn “camps” into terror launch pads?

Surgical strike will become a hashtag that long stopped trending, awaiting the next clever marketing move that might resurrect it someday.

As the debate for evidence of the operation continues, the government’s job is done: Both words have already devolved into official buzzwords that will characterise this period in our history and no other version of the truth will be served. So when “seditious civilians” call for proof of this surgical strike, they are threatened with court martial.

The phrase itself serves as a kind of shibboleth; say it right and only then will you be recognised as one of our own. You don’t even have to know what it means. You can turn it into a mantra for UP elections, target practice for Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim, or material for the PM’s message on Vijay Dashmi. Surgical Strike is our very own Operation Geronimo.

That’s the thing with buzzwords. They’re immensely handy. You need look no further than how deftly the word divorce turned into “conscious uncoupling”. The phrase took on a life of its own and served a dual purpose: It introduced us to a kinder way to think about parting while simultaneously rendering Gwyneth Paltrow even more insufferable. Only messy people with their constant, common bickering got divorced. But if you could afford it, you consciously uncoupled. It was aspirational. Just the way “urban poor” is now aspirational; a glorified version of poverty not available to the actually indigent. Only someone with a Starbucks caramel macchiato at the end of the day could be urban poor – so long as they slept in their car.

Creating buzzwords is like investing in equity: You can reap benefits over the long term. Take a cue from our political high offices. Now as we move on to life post Uri, politicians who have by now roundly extolled the virtues of the armed forces and this specific operation, can once again go back to business as usual. They now have a hall pass to ignore the needs of veterans, play dirty when appointing officers, turn the army into a political football in Kashmir and the Northeast, and then halve their disability pensions.

Surgical strike will become a hashtag that long stopped trending, awaiting the next clever marketing move that might resurrect it someday.

That is when the phrase shall devolve into fodder for a future Bollywood action-thriller, preferably one with sequels. After the first instalment Surgical Strike: India’s Revenge, we can have Surgical Strike 2: Karachi Chalo, and even Surgical Strike 3: The Unpartitioning, this time with real, live Pakistani actors. Pakistan, for its part, shall obviously move to ban such movies, which means that at least one of the political Senas can be expected to call for a boycott of Pakistani artists. Again.

The phrase may experience another revival when Activision decides that the potential vast market of Indian youth deserve their own version of Call of Duty. Perhaps, it can feature Sunil Shetty leading a rocket launcher past the trenches, or even Sunny Deol with a hand pump on the cover sleeve. Sitting at home, we will put ourselves in the shoes of the bravest Indian jawans while they deal with the pesky Pakistanis on the LOC.

A nightmare scenario would be if Harsha Bhogle were to come anywhere close to uttering “surgical” at the sight of a fine match-winning shot by an Indian batsman, leading to an awkward moment in the commentary box with Ramiz Raja. At which point, several hundreds of my fellow Dilliwalas will joyously flood India Gate with hoardings proclaiming “Surgical Strike 2.0” or something.

At this point, I should mention that the German Surgical Strike’s latest offering happens to be named Shithouse Propaganda. I wonder how many are buying.