If there were any doubts that the ruling BJP led by Prime Minister Modi would put aside its relentless electioneering at a time when dozens of paramilitary personnel have been killed in a terrorist attack, and escalating tensions with Pakistan have ended up with an Indian pilot in Pakistan’s custody, such doubts have been put to rest. The gloves are off, if they were ever put on.
Today, PM Modi held a long “interaction” with BJP activists and booth workers across the country. The agenda was – how to make each booth strong in terms of votes for BJP. Mera Booth, Sabse Mazboot was the declared theme, that is My Booth, the Strongest. Answering questions from various parts of the country, Modi spelt out the tasks for the upcoming campaign, achievements of his government, and of course, he lambasted the opposition for various failings.
He started off by praising the young men and women who guard the country’s borders. In a clear reference to the ongoing border hostilities, he said, "The enemy is trying to destabilise us, carry out terror strikes... they want to stop our growth... we will fight, live, work and win as one," he said.
Air Strikes and Elections
On February 27, a day after the IAF [Indian Air Force] air strikes on Balakot, Pakistan, former chief minister and Karnataka BJP strongman B S Yeddyurappa was reported as exulting that with the strikes, BJP would win 22 out of 28 seats in Karnataka. He told reporters in Chitradurga that “this [the air strikes] has brought a pro-Modi wave in the country.”
Like Tathagata Roy, former BJP president of West Bengal and now Governor of Meghalaya, Yeddyurappa has let the cat out of the bag. Roy became infamous for calling on a boycott of Kashmir, Kashmiris and Kashmiri goods even as Kashmiri students were being attacked in many parts of the country led or egged on by Sangh parivar outfits, thus revealing the real feelings inside the BJP/RSS. So now has Yeddyurappa, revealing the cold calculation among BJP top brass that the Pulwama terror attack can be turned into electoral advantage by seemingly acting tough on the terrorists. It doesn’t really matter whether terrorists’ activity will stop after the strikes, or even whether any terrorists were affected by them. It is the image, the optics that matter.
Criticism of Government Anti-National?
Yesterday, responding to criticism that the massive video conferencing event of Modi was being held in the midst of an unprecedented security situation, BJP leaders were quoted as saying that changing the programme would be succumbing to the terrorists’ design.
In other words, the BJP can go about its election campaign using the Pulwama attack, and the air strikes, to build a larger-than-life muscular image, while any other person or party criticising the government will immediately be branded as anti-national, or supportive of Pakistan!
This was what happened after an Opposition meet on February 27, the day news came in that an Indian pilot had been captured by Pakistani forces. Over 21 political parties met in Delhi to discuss the current tension with Pakistan, and issued a common statement. The statement, after paying homage to martyrs and supporting the armed forces, expressed “deep anguish over blatant politicisation of sacrifices of armed forces by leaders of the ruling party”. It also said that “National security must transcend narrow political considerations”. The parties demanded that the “Government take the Nation into confidence on all measures to protect India’s sovereignty, unity and integrity”.
Also read: Uri, a War Zone? Report From Ground Zero
The BJP immediately responded with Union Minister Prakash Javadekar alleging, “Who is happy [with the joint statement]? Pakistan, its army and its media.” He openly said that criticism of the government would help Pakistan show that India was not united in its stand against terror.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who had recently said that even an Abbotabad style operation was no longer a thing of imagination, referring to the US operation to capture Osama bin Laden, tweeted his disapproval of the Opposition. He repeated that the Opposition’s “ill-advised statement is being used by Pakistan to bolster its case”.
BJP’s Election Campaign Using War and Deaths
It will be recalled that on February 26, the very day when the government undertook air strikes on Balakot, Prime Minister Modi addressed a rally in Churu, Rajasthan. Standing in front of a backdrop, carrying pictures of the 40 CRPF personnel killed in Pulwama on February 14, Modi paid homage to the martyrs, and went on to declare: “Today I assure the countrymen, the country is in safe hands”. Later, while inaugurating an 800-kg Bhagvad Gita at Delhi’s ISKCON temple, he started his speech by saying “Today is a historic day.”
Earlier, during the interregnum between the Pulwama attack and the air strikes, he had repeatedly referred to the attack, the martyrs, the desire for revenge, “the fire burning inside our hearts”, in a series of public meetings across the country. He had right at the beginning declared that the armed forces had been given free rein to take action against the atrocity.
Amit Shah, BJP president too had been on a similar campaign trail. On the day of the air strikes, Shah was addressing a corner meeting in Ghazipur, UP, and thundered “Who can give a mooh todh jawab (fitting reply to Pakistan?) Who can wipe out terrorism?” He lavishly praised Modi for possessing the "political will power" to fight terrorism, which, he said, the PM was known the world over for.
Days after the Pulwama attack, Shah had said in Assam, “This cowardly act was done by Pakistani terrorists. Their (jawans') sacrifices will not go in vain, because there is no Congress government at the Centre. It is BJP government and the Narendra Modi government will not compromise on any security issue."
The so-called surgical strikes in September 2016, undertaken ostensibly to take revenge for the Uri attack, were similarly used by the Modi govt. to bolster its “strong” image. A video of the attack was released last year to keep the hype alive.
Will all this chest thumping and sabre-rattling work? It is doubtful, because the Modi government is facing a mountain of public disenchantment. But that is another story.
Also watch: Stop Baying for the Blood of Our Soldiers: Former IAF Pilot