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Toll in Balakot air strike: From SS Ahluwalia to Amit Shah, what BJP leaders have said so far

The 26 February air strike in Pakistan's Balakot killed "a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis", Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had said soon after reports broke last week about the attack. However, a week after the air strike, the Narendra Modi government is yet to give an exact count of terrorists killed in the attack, triggering the Opposition to raise questions about the damage inflicted on terrorists.

As the actual figures continue to remain a mystery and international media continue to question India's claims, here is look at what different leaders from the ruling BJP have had to say about the issue:

Union minister SS Ahluwalia said on Saturday that neither Modi nor BJP president Amit Shah ever claimed that the air strikes killed over 300 terrorists.

"I have seen reports in Indian media and international media and also what Modiji had said. After the air strike, there was a rally by Modiji and he didn't say anything on the casualty figures. I want to ask whether Modiji, or any government spokesperson, or our party president Amit Shah has given any figures?" he asked reporters in Siliguri on Saturday.

Ahluwalia further added that the purpose of the air strike was not to cause casualties but to send out the message that India is capable of hitting deep inside enemy lines.

The CPM tweeted a video of the Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology's comments.

Amid the demands for proof of the air strikes, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley refused to put a number on the toll and said on Saturday "no security agencies ever share operational details". 

"The armed forces must have, and our security and intelligence agencies must have, a full leeway in dealing with situations, and if anybody wants operational details to be made public... he certainly does not understand the system," said Jaitley at a conference organised by India Today.

 Toll in Balakot air strike: From SS Ahluwalia to Amit Shah, what BJP leaders have said so far

Union minister SS Ahluwalia and BJP chief Amit Shah.

However, Shah said at a rally on Sunday that over 250 terrorists were killed in the "non-military, pre-emptive" air strikes.

"After the Uri attack, the army did a surgical strike. After the Pulwama attack, people said there could not be a surgical strike due to the high level of alertness. But on the 13th day, the Narendra Modi government carried out an air strike, and more than 250 terrorists were killed without suffering any losses,” Shah was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.

The BJP chief also said that the Opposition parties should "keep quiet" if they were unable to appreciate what Modi and the country's armed forces had achieved through the air strike. 

"Opposition leaders do not know what happened. Mamata asks for proof. Rahul 'baba' says it is being politicised. Akhilesh asks for a probe. Be ashamed that your statements have brought a smile on Pakistan's face," Shah said.

Prime Minister Modi, too, criticised the Opposition leaders on Sunday, and said, "Now they have even started asking for proof of the air strike. Why are Congress and its allies demoralising our forces? Why are they giving statements which are benefiting our enemies?"

Meanwhile, air chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa said during a press conference on Monday that the Indian Air Force's job was to hit its targets, while it is the government who counts the casualties.

"We hit our target. The air force doesn't calculate casualty numbers, the government does that," he said.

What Opposition has said

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was among the first ones from the Opposition to demand the casualty figures in the Balakot attack.

Citing foreign media reports which said that not much damage was done by the Indian Air Force's pre-emptive strike on terror camps at Balakot, she said last week, "The force should be given an opportunity to come up with facts." "After the air strikes, we were told there were 300 deaths, 350 deaths. But I read reports in The New York Times and Washington Post which said no human was killed. Another foreign media report said only one person was injured," Banerjee told reporters at the state secretariat in Kolkata.

Asserting that the force should be given an opportunity to come up with facts, she said, "We have the right to know, people of this country want to know how many were killed (at Balakot). Where were the bombs actually dropped? Was it dropped on the target?"

The Congress on Monday asked the prime minister to come out with the truth on the number of terrorists killed. "Modiji, your central government ministers are stating that TV channels' news is fake, stating that the prime minister never stated that 300 terrorists were killed during the Balakot air strike. Is this true? If no, the prime minister should tell the truth. Regards, citizens of the country," said Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala in a tweet Monday.

Trinamool Congress MP Derek O'Brien also took a dig at Modi and Shah on Monday and said that the armed forces were being used for political posturing.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Mar 04, 2019 17:34:51 IST

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