Pulwama encounter aftermath: The ruling party continues to leverage tragedy for politics despite assurances to the contrary

Let's begin with a simple proposition. The more you let terrorists and terror activities disrupt your quotidian lives and routines, the more you give them the impression of having succeeded and won the war. The more you refuse to be cowed and insist on going about your normal business, the more you tell them you haven’t, your spirit will prevail in the end. Thus, Mumbaikars after 26 November, 2008; Parisians and Parisiennes after 23 November, 2015; and New Yorkers after 11 September, 2001.

What holds good for 'common' folk, actually uncommon folk, should hold good for everyone. In this frame, we could see the suspension of political activity, especially with a definitive election in the offing, as being counterproductive. What it signals is that you have the power to disrupt our normal democratic processes and activities.

Nevertheless, the political class — ie the political parties in this country — decided to put on hold its election campaigns to honour those slain in the terrorist attack in Pulwama and signal that the country was united against terrorists operating mainly in Kashmir, and their sponsors, the Pakistani State, not necessarily Pakistan and its people: That decision must be respected.

Two things are happening, most unfortunately, and at least one of them plays into the hands of the terrorists and their patrons. First, Kashmiris, many of them students, are being targeted with vitriolic abuse and violence, elsewhere in the country. This is certainly not the smartest way of making 'moderate' Kashmiris who want to live a peaceful existence integrated with the 'Indian mainstream' feel welcome. After all, logically speaking, a preponderant majority of those people who abandon their homes in the Valley to seek their fortunes elsewhere in the country are by definition 'integrated' or seeking 'integration'.

The foregoing is not, however, the main point of this piece, which brings us to the second issue: The politics of it.

The Pulwama attack took place last Thursday. In its immediate aftermath, the BJP and Opposition parties announced that they would not hold election rallies. BJP chief Amit Shah urged all parties to hang together in an hour of crisis after a Congress spokesperson had questioned the ruling party's record on fighting terror. The Congress, like other parties, has been as good as its word, reiterating that it stood behind both the government and the security forces at a difficult time.

But on the day the news of the attacks started filtering through early evening — the attack was carried out at around 3 pm — Shah did not think it fit to suspend his pre-election tour of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In fact, the BJP and the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam sealed an election alliance late on Thursday itself. You could hardly get more business-as-usual than that. Shah has remained focused on the impending Lok Sabha elections since.

Pulwama encounter aftermath: The ruling party continues to leverage tragedy for politics despite assurances to the contrary

Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tribute to CRPF jawans who died in the Pulwama attack. PTI

On Monday, he was running full tilt, while addressing party workers in Jaipur. Narendra Modi, he told them, was the tallest leader in the world with the political will to fighting terror. The message could not be clearer, vote for us, because only we are capable of dealing with terror. And this is the man exhorting everyone else to refrain from politicising the issue. Of this claim, more in a bit, since Shah has brought up the matter. A day before, he was in Assam, where he said, addressing a Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha rally, that he would not allow Assam to become another Kashmir, in the context of the amendment to the citizenship act. More of the same message.

Shah is in good company. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, too, refrained from suspending a political event in Kerala connected to the Sabarimala issue. On Saturday, Modi addressed a number of meetings in Maharashtra, which were government-sponsored events, as the BJP has been at pains to point out. At these, Modi gave assurances that the deaths of 40-odd personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force would not go in vain; they would be avenged in a befitting manner. But he was walking a tightrope when he claimed that his government had worked tirelessly for the people to fulfil his assurances and when he asked his audience whether they were happy with his performance.

In any case, in Hazaribagh, where he had gone ostensibly to pay homage to a slain soldier, Modi spent most of his 20-odd-minute speech praising the incumbent government in Jharkhand, in which the BJP is a partner. He detailed the track record of the state government over the past four years, referring to the setting up of new medical colleges, a prospective AIIMS and made much the introduction of cash transfers leading to the weeding out of middlemen. Sounds suspiciously like stump oratory, does it not? A Maharashtra Congress spokesperson named it as such in the context of Modi's Maharashtra programme.

In the meanwhile, a senior minister in the Gujarat government mooted, on Saturday, that the government must mount a retaliatory strike on Pakistan, even if that meant a postponement of the impending Lok Sabha elections.

While Opposition parties have been quiet by and large, excepting a few questions asked about the BJP's track record by a Congress spokesperson in the immediate after aftermath, Trinamool Congress boss Mamata Banerjee has finally called the BJP out with a list of queries. Central to these are a few concerns, all legitimate. First, why has the government allowed Islamabad to do this? What has it been doing for the past five years? There were questions on logistics as well: Why, for instance, were the CRPF personnel moved in a huge convoy that was a sitting duck, instead of being airlifted? And so on.

It is a fact that despite multiple surgical strikes, including the one called demonetisation, which was supposed to all but eradicate terrorism by eliminating terrorist funding, the fact is that there has been a secular rise in terror attacks, infiltration and casualties. In Jammu and Kashmir, the year 2014 recorded 90 incidents of killings, which accounted for 188 deaths; 2015 witnessed a slight dip, with the corresponding figures pegged at 88 and 178. The next three years saw a steep upward curve: 112 and 267 in 2016; 164 and 354 in 2017; and, 205 and 457 in 2018. That's a staggering increase under the watch of a prime minister whose political will to fight terror worldwide is unmatched.

Another set of figures, given to the Lok Sabha by the Ministry of Home Affairs, shows that the number of terrorist incidents in the state rose from 222 in 2014 to 614 in 2018, while the number of casualties rose from 185 in 2014 to 386 in 2018. The number of civilians and security personnel killed rose in this period from 75 to 129. Incidents of infiltration has also seen a secular rise between 2016 and 2018.

So, the TMC chieftain has a point. For now, however, that is not the fundamental issue. That will have to be sorted out by whichever government comes to power in a few months. The fundamental point is that the BJP has arrogated to itself the right to ignore the rules that it has, in its arrogance, prescribed for others.

And once again, the BJP has used the opportunity of a tragedy to collapse the boundaries between the nation and the people, and the BJP and its government.

This was once more evidenced by the utterly jejune comments made by Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh on Monday in response to Banerjee’s questionnaire.

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Updated Date: Feb 19, 2019 16:02:35 IST

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