The politicisation of Pulwama is as inevitable as it is regrettable. A day after the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 40 CRPF jawans, the veneer of a united front dissolved and representatives of the ruling NDA and Opposition were at daggers drawn, playing a blame game for the edification of the electorate. Across TV channels, party spokespersons prefaced their remarks with “I don’t want to politicise the issue”, then went ahead and did just that.
The NDA was bashed for security lapses and mishandling of the Kashmir issue and the Opposition for supporting ‘terror apologists’. It would be naive to imagine that the national parties would take the high road and keep Pulwana off their political agendas. That said, the grace and wisdom displayed by veteran Congress leaders, Capt Amarinder Singh and Salman Khurshid, is in stark contrast to the shouting matches and petty point-scoring by leaders of both national parties.
Both took a firm stand on the bombing of the CRPF convoy in Pulwama and later, on Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s rather peculiar response to India’s demand for action against Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar. While condemning the attack and Pakistan’s doublespeak, neither found it necessary to harangue, provoke or second-guess the government and armed forces, unlike their party colleagues and the media.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s statement of Feburary 14, promising to support the government in whatever action it deemed fit, should have set the tone for the political discourse. Instead, the Congress unleashed its snipers on air and in the social media, pillorying the government for “utter failure” on national security. BJP president Amit Shah in turn sought to leverage the tragedy by bashing the Congress in his campaign speeches.
Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal CM Mamata Bannerjee joined the fray, going so far as to suggest the PM put in his papers and accusing the BJP of creating “war-like hysteria” ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Meghalaya governor Tathagata Roy, not to be outdone, called for a boycott of Kashmiri businesses, even as students from J&K were being targetted by miscreants. NCP leader Sharad Pawar confined himself to complaining that the PM had not addressed the all-party meeting held in the wake of the Pulwama attack.
The Government and Opposition were briefly on the same page when the Pakistan PM denied any involvement in the bombing of the CRPF convoy and demanded ‘proof’. Both condemned his stance unequivocally. A day later, it was business as usual, with the Opposition hammering the PM for receiving Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammad bin Salman at the airport, pointing out that he had cosied up to Pakistan and committed to a 20-billion dollar investment in the cash-starved country.
It is painfully obvious that the Opposition has no agenda other than BJP-bashing. It dare not suggest dialogue with Pakistan as an option, given the likelihood of an adverse public reaction. That task has been taken up by its sympathisers, who have no direct political stakes. Nor can it indulge in war-mongering, for fear of putting off the international community. So, rather than ideate on the way forward and offer useful suggestions, it has fallen back on nit-picking and recalling the BJP’s real and imagined past sins.
The BJP’s sympathisers, meanwhile, are training their guns on a soft target, namely, the thousands of Kashmiri Muslims who live and work across India. The episode in Dehradun, where a mob allegedly led by RSS frontal organisations demanded the sacking of a college dean who happened to be Kashmiri, was particularly reprehensible. Witch-hunting of this kind is unlikely to endear the BJP to the people of Uttarakhand, or New Delhi to the Kashmir Valley.
All the clamour and the surcharged atmosphere makes it harder for the government and defense establishment to formulate a credible strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan. Pursuing a diplomatic offensive against Pakistan is a delicate business that cannot be dictated by whim or indeed, by the prevailing public sentiment. Nor can the military option be exercised at the flick of a switch. Months of planning are required even when there is the advantage of surprise.
Any responsible government would prefer a de-escalation of tensions to open confrontation, after all. No party has a patent on patriotic sentiment or national tragedies. Ideally, the political class should have been united in grief or at the very least, reached a mutual understanding not to capitalise on it.
Bhavdeep Kang is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author.