New Delhi: Imran Khan has given an alarming interview to the Financial Times of London. The prestigious business daily wrote paraphrasing the Pakistan prime minister to say that “Imran Khan fears India has been gripped by “war hysteria” that threatens to unleash further hostilities in the run-up to the neighbour’s national elections.” In a direct statement to the paper, Imran Khan says, “I’m still apprehensive before the elections. I feel that something could happen... When Phulwama [the suicide attack in Kashmir] happened I felt that Mr [Narendra] Modi’s government used that to build this war hysteria. The Indian public should realise that this is all for winning the elections. It’s nothing to do with the real issues of the sub-continent.”

How valid are Imran Khan’s apprehensions and his direct insinuations against Narendra Modi?

It is a fact that Narendra Modi is not in the same electorally strong position that he was five years ago when he swept the elections. There is scarcely a respected economist who believes the growth figures (seven per cent being the latest) put out by the government. Modi’s campaign promise in the last election of creating two crore jobs a year has come to haunt him because it is no more than a broken promise. Farm distress meanwhile is real. Apart from the creamy layer of the very rich which is close to the regime, it is just broken dreams for the rest, including the middle class. No one, not least the regime, speaks of “acche din”. Instead, the BJP is now called something that would make the late great Atal Behari Vajpayee turn in his grave: the Bharatiya Jumla Party.

Before the Phulwama attack for which Pakistan cannot get absolution, Narendra Modi was on a weak wicket. His record was poor for re-election. Indeed, one of his cabinet ministers, Nitin Gadkari, did far better, whose performance, indeed, became a thorn in Modi’s side. You don’t have to be a clairvoyant to say that Narendra Modi was staring at defeat.

Until Phulwama, that is.

Imran Khan is correct insofar as he blames Narendra Modi for whipping up war hysteria in India which has been obligingly carried forward by BJP hotheads, news channels and Bollywood. But Pakistan is the original sinner. Phulwama couldn’t have taken place without the instigation of the terrorist establishment across the border. That it happened in Jammu and Kashmir exposes domestic policy faultlines, including the muscular policies of the Narendra Modi government. Being a great and enduring democracy, India will overcome those faultlines. Narendra Modi is not India and India is not Narendra Modi. That sort of narrow identification was not even true for Indira Gandhi. All the same, if there were no Phulwama, there should have been no opportunity for war hysteria.

The war hysteria, however, came in handy for Narendra Modi for a while. Having nearly nothing to show for the first term, he rode on the country’s anger for Phulwama to launch the Balakot strike. The subsequent manufactured death toll of terrorists in Balakot fitted in nicely with the campaign. In one fell swoop, the wrecked economy, record unemployment, geopolitical confusion and national stagnation became issues of secondary importance. Narendra Modi had almost turned a losing election into a victorious one by dragging national security into it. Almost, that is. If the regime had not bragged about Balakot and encouraged the war hysteria, the impact should have been lasting. Except that the boasting exposed Balakot as a second intelligence failure after Phulwama, and Pakistan retaliated with twice the force of the Indian attack. Having set out to make it a national security election, Modi has suffered the equivalent of a macho officer miscalculating the timing of an exploding hand grenade. Balakot has raised more questions than the regime expected and it has also put an unexpected spotlight on the intelligence failure at Phulwama.

Given this situation, how valid are Imran Khan’s fears of an untoward happening before the general election? They are perfectly valid. But the blame doesn’t lie on the Indian side only... or even primarily. Without Phulwama, there would have been no Balakot or war mongering. As logical as it may seem to Imran Khan that Narendra Modi is spoiling for another military action to boost his sagging election campaign, the Indian electorate is not about to tolerate such insanity. Questions are already being raised about Phulwama. And there is wider Indian acquaintance with a part of world history than they are credited for, which is that war is an uncontrollable monster, and that it devours the dictators who instigate them.