Discounts on Burgers for Air Strike: How to Commodify India-Pakistan Tensions

Social Commentary

Discounts on Burgers for Air Strike: How to Commodify India-Pakistan Tensions

Illustration: Akshita Monga

It has been a hard few days to respond to, a hard few days to make sense of. The web is a clutter of theories, summaries, projections and in some cases confirmations of this or that; each ringing with a sense of fear, despair and diplomatic uncertainty. Lives are on the line, and with them individual and collective futures. In the middle of all this, you receive messages from a burger company offering discounts on the occasion of “Surgical Strike 2”.

Naturally, it is infuriating. Drumming passions or celebrating exchanges in war accords the armed forces no help, especially if it is done with the gross insensitivity of furthering businesses or making profits.

The company Burger Singh is not new to controversial outtakes. In the aftermath of the first surgical strike in 2016, the outlet had floated a similar set of messages, claiming their elation at the operation, and in the process offering a not-so-generous discount on their burgers. The language, almost two years on hasn’t changed with FPAK (presumably an abbreviation of Fuck Pakistan) being used as a code for the discount.

Burger Singh’s opportunism feels as sickening as it is undermining of the tensions along the border. Even as reports and counter-reports were being exchanged over what had actually happened, the outlet decided to milk the moment and draw on the passions of its clients. An initiative of the sort can be lauded should it manifest in peacetime to benefit and express concern for the armed forces rather than their war-time scores. But to contrive with jingoist sentiment and extract from a situation of immense stake, stress, and hurt, a profit is perhaps as disrespectful to the armed forces in time of war, is just plain ignorant.

There is a vanity to the way we express solidarity or support for our defences

Capitalism rarely deems anything untouchable from gender rights to war, to even perhaps, apartheid. The American political scientist Michael Parenti writes, “the essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities”. In commoditising sentiments of pride and nationalistic spirit, a company like Burger Singh violates two basics of human and societal decency. First, it sees itself as a participant in a national argument, eager to have its say but disinclined to leave its business at home. As citizens, participating in a conversation on which the future of the nation might itself hinge, the tendency to advertise personal businesses defeats the very purpose of organic unification. Might we then also consider sticking advertisements to warheads and bombs, or sending coupons into other countries perchance the business expands?

The second and perhaps more serious affront here is to celebrate – without clarity of fact no less – a military action, rather than mourn a military casualty. Now that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman will be released by Pakistan, the CRPF jawans killed at Pulwama or the six IAF personnel killed in a crash a Budgam are forgotten.

There is a vanity to the way we express solidarity or support for our defences. Our contributions to funds and charities are often followed by public confirmations that “we have done our bit” sliding in slyly the weight of our pride in the self. It was always a matter of time before businesses would find this river of emotion too convenient and volatile an opportunity to differentiate its needs and its suffering from its motto. Think of the families of those who died in Pulwama. What would they think were a similar message sent to one of their phones? Instead of screaming “How’s the Josh?” can we not also ask “how’s the pain?”

Burger Singh’s tweets and messages – like two years ago – were followed by both fervent criticism and, bafflingly, even support. In haste the outlet even posted an explanation quoting the Canadian Psychology Professor Jordan Peterson who has openly endorsed that it “is harder to deal with ‘crazy women’ because he cannot hit them” and likes to think of himself as a culture warrior. The post ends with the outlet declaring it will continue to “celebrate” and “it’ll be hard to convince us otherwise”. Other businesses, persuaded by this foolhardiness followed suit, with gifts and cakes being thrown around.

Capitalism rarely deems anything untouchable from gender rights to war, to even perhaps, apartheid.

Nationalism has not become a market catalyst overnight, but the cheap gimmicks of a handful of businesses have gone the extra mile to undervalue the gravity and sensitivity of the situation at hand. Conflict, unlike Holi and Diwali is a sobering state of affairs that must be treated with grave respect rather than verbal petitions for bragging rights. Though these gimmicks posture as a patriotic reckoning, they violate nearly all imaginable constructs of empathy, even national integrity. Burger Singh’s wartime burgers are a perfect example of the people’s disconnect from a war they, in so many ways demand, but know not how to confront or handle with sensitivity.

Now that Wing Commander Abhinandan is all set to return what should we expect next? Victory Wings with free Titanic Coke. Use Code for ABHI for discount.