Narendra Modi projects strength post Pulwama terror attack, but faces burden of expectations from public, BJP leadership

It was something that had never occurred in the past four-and-a-half years of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Prior to the announcement that the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), chaired by the PM,  would meet at 9.15 am on Friday, a photo-op of the political leadership attending the meeting and an official statement by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was issued immediately after the meeting ended.

Narendra Modi projects strength post Pulwama terror attack, but faces burden of expectations from public, BJP leadership

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reuters

Unusual times require unusual responses. After all, 40 soldiers died in a fidayan terror attack in Pulwama and the sense of anger against the perpetrators of this heinous act and their backers in Pakistan was palpable across the country. By making the details of the meeting public, to whatever extent, the government sought to instill a sense of confidence, and assure the public, particularly the families of the soldiers that died in the attack, that their sacrifice would not go in vain.

The CCS comprises PM, ministers of home, defence, external affairs and finance, chiefs of three defence services and chiefs of two central intelligence agencies. A stern message by the PM after the meeting was indicative of what must have transpired during the meeting. The essence of Modi’s statement was clear: India is keeping all its options, including military action of whatever kind, open.

Consider what Modi said: “In these times the country expects that we must respond appropriately, that is natural. Our security forces have been given total freedom to act. We have full faith in valour and bravery of our soldiers… I want to tell terror organisations and their backers that they have committed a big mistake. They will have to pay a heavy price. I want to assure the nation that whosoever forces behind this attack will be punished.” He added that Pakistan had been isolated on the world stage and would never succeed in its intentions to create instability in India.

The prime minister was speaking — immediately after CCS — at a ceremony to flag-off the high speed Vande Bharat Express, running between New Delhi and Varanasi. Though he cancelled political events in Itarsi (which was scheduled for Friday evening) and Nagpur (which was scheduled for Saturday), but Modi kept his public engagements: flagging off of Vande Bharat Express and launching of a series of developmental programmes for Budelkhand in Jhansi.

Modi used flagging of a new train, the fastest train in the country, to indicate how the government and security forces might react to the situation. An official said, “By keeping his date with developmental programmes, Modi sent out a clear message: that even as India stands with its soldiers and their families, India would never slow down or alter its pace in the face of terrorist brutality”. The official drew a parallel with November 2015 terror attack in Paris, when the French government resolved to go ahead with Paris Climate Change Conference, which was scheduled just a few days later, which was appreciated around the world.

Three hours later, in Jhansi, Modi reiterated his resolve to give a befitting response to Pulwama terror attack. “Security forces have been given nod to choose their time, place and nature of retaliatory attack… Our neighbor (Pakistan) is forgetting that it is now dealing with an India which has new intent and resolve… poora hisab liya jayega.”

Sources said there is little doubt that such an action will be coming but how, when and what will be left to commanders of the security forces. Will there be another surgical strike or something more daring? A bit of optics or something else? In the corridors of power, speculation is rife. Given Modi’s ideological moorings and image as a 'tough leader', the PM faces the burden of expectations. Leaders from his own party, the BJP, believe Modi will surely walk the talk and “make perpetrators in Pakistan pay heavy price”, referring to the fact that the Indian Army conducted a surgical strike on terror camps inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir 12 days after Uri terror attack.

Prior to Modi's statement, Jaitley listed some measures India is taking: Withdrawing “most favoured nation” status to Pakistan (commerce ministry will initiate that process), and said the external affairs ministry will initiate all possible steps to complete the isolation of Pakistan. Jaitley also spoke of the “heavy cost” the perpetrators and their backers will have to pay.

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Updated Date: Feb 16, 2019 13:39:46 IST

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