BJP using air strikes in Pakistan to further political agenda, but too simplistic to say IAF ops will win Narendra Modi second term

The ruling BJP has intensified its election campaign in the backdrop of the IAF strikes in Pakistan, with the face and hope of the party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, travelling across the country to address public rallies and inaugurate slews of developmental projects.

FP Staff March 10, 2019 14:36:12 IST
BJP using air strikes in Pakistan to further political agenda, but too simplistic to say IAF ops will win Narendra Modi second term
  • The initial stand of solidarity between major Opposition parties and the Centre after the Pulwama terror has evolved into a shouting match to accuse each other of using the attack and its aftermath as a tool to further political agenda

  • A key talking point for BJP leaders and Narendra Modi has the 'preemptive' air strike India conducted in Pakistan's Balakot in response to the terror attack

  • However, the widest ranging criticism came after BJP leaders were spotted using pictures related to the Indian Army on hoardings of their public rallies, soon after India's strikes on terror camps in Balakot

The initial stand of solidarity among major Opposition parties and the Centre after the Pulwama attack, in which 42 CRPF personnel died, has evolved into a shouting match to be the first — and loudest — to accuse each other of going soft on terror, questioning the capability of the armed forces and using the suicide attack and incidents that followed as tools to further political agenda.

The latest accusation is especially important with the crucial Lok Sabha election to be held in April-May. The ruling BJP has intensified its election campaign, with the face and hope of the party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, travelling across the country to address public rallies and inaugurate a slew of developmental projects.

BJP using air strikes in Pakistan to further political agenda but too simplistic to say IAF ops will win Narendra Modi second term

File image of BJP posters comprising photos of Indian armed personnel. Twitter

As he shares the dais with chief ministers, including Yogi Adityanath and Nitish Kumar, a key talking point at Modi's rallies is the "preemptive" air strike the Indian Air Force conducted in Pakistan's Balakot in response to the Pulwama terror attack, for which Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad had claimed responsibility.

Opposition leaders, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, had sparked controversy when they raised doubts about the "timing" of the Pulwama attack. This gave the BJP more ammo to use against the Opposition for apparently questioning the Indian armed forces.

In a veiled attack on the Modi government, the Trinamool Congress supremo had asked "why the deadly attack happened right before the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections".

"It is an attempt to create communal tensions across the country?" she had asked, also accusing the Centre of not doing anything to stop "Pakistanis" from carrying out "terror attacks" in India for all these years. Mamata also claimed the government thought of a "shadow war" only when the elections are near.

However, criticism of the government grew after BJP leaders began to use photographs related to the Indian Army on hoardings of their public rallies. This was soon after the Indian Air Force carried out air strikes on terrorist training camps in Balakot.

Once such instance was in Ahmedabad on 3 March, ahead of Modi's two-day visit to the city. Various hoardings with photos of Modi and army jawans, also featuring messages such as "Modi hai toh mumkin hai" (if Modi is there, it is possible) were put up in the city.

However, the Election Commission, on Saturday, ordered political parties to "desist from displaying photographs of defence personnel" in their posters. The instructions came after the photograph of a hoarding displaying photos of IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and senior BJP leaders was circulated on social media and came to the Election Commission's notice. It is not known where the hoarding was put up.

Varthaman was part of a dogfight with a Pakistan Air Force aircraft a day after the IAF air strikes, when his MiG-21 Bison was shot down by a PAF F-16. He was later captured by the Pakistan Army, but in a "good-will gesture", Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan released him. Varthaman was welcomed back home on 1 March amid celebrations.

Soon after the IAF air strikes in Balakot, congratulatory messages to Modi for "winning" the Lok Sabha elections took over public discourse. BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa had also said that the air strikes would help the party win "at least 22 seats" in Karnataka.

"Modi Hai Toh Mumkin Hai" is also the BJP's new pre-poll catchphrase, which aims to convey the prime minister's "strength and decisiveness". The party's focus appears to be aimed at bringing to the notice of the electorate the way Modi gave a free hand to the armed forces to cross the Line of Control and the International Border and hit the intended targets in Pakistan.

Based on the tenor of the speeches given by BJP leaders, including the prime minister, after the IAF strikes, it was made clear that the BJP will be going to the polls with the focus on two broad topics — first, Modi's strong leadership and how it can "make everything possible"; and second, the post-Pulwama response of the Indian armed forces. The party is pitching both topics in a bid to emotively polarise voters in favour of the BJP.

A number of instances indicate the ruling party's attempts to project the tension with Pakistan and the IAF action on the border through a political lens —BJP ally and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, while addressing the party's Sankalp Rally in Patna, had said, "The way we won the battle of bullets, we will also win the battle of ballots in the Lok Sabha polls"; Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had claimed the Pakistan Army or terrorists will attack the Indian Parliament and Assam Assembly if the Modi government was not voted back to power.

BJP president Amit Shah claiming that the air strikes had killed 250 militants — though the government has not revealed a toll — only added to the perception that the party was using the IAF air strikes to appeal to voters' nationalistic sentiments and convince them to vote for the party that took the anti-Pakistan, anti-terror step.

Furthermore, the clamour for "proof" of the air strikes by senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh and the barrage of questions raised by Opposition leaders — including Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Kapil Sibal, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Randeep Singh Surjewala, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, Mehbooba Mufti, Salman Khurshid and others — seem to have only helped the BJP shape its response and give a nationalist and pro-forces twist to the tension between the neighbours.

Analysts believe that the hostilities with Pakistan, India's efforts against terrorism and "able leadership" to fight terrorism are bound to be the major talking points in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. However, they clarified that it would be too simplistic to assume that the India-Pakistan tension has guaranteed Modi a second term in office.

With inputs from agencies

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