The government’s stance on the muh-tod jawab to Pakistan has been nuanced and devoid of triumphalism. Apart from a flurry of tweets on the morning of February 26, hours after the cross-border bombing of terrorist training camps by the Indian Air Force, even the normally verbose BJP spokespersons held their peace, leaving displays of chest-thumping to TV anchors.
The Opposition commended the IAF and stood with the government, hailing the air strikes as “a befitting response to the martyrdom of our soldiers”. On the whole, the political class conducted itself responsibly and with grace, presenting a united front. The world reacted favourably and by the end of the day, it was advantage India.
The most heartening aspect of the recent developments is the sense of common purpose they have engendered among citizens and politicial parties must show that they, too, continue to partake of those sentiments. That India’s decisive response to Pulwama might willy nilly translate into advantage NDA is clearly a peripheral issue, in the urgency of the moment.
The credit for ‘political will’ in greenlighting the Balakot operation has gone to the ruling dispensation and rightly so, though it admittedly had little choice in the matter. Domestic politics apart, any display of skittishness would have reinforced the perception of India as a ‘soft state’. Public satisfaction over the decisive response to Pulwama is manifest and the government is seen as having discharged its duty to protect Indian soil.
Pakistan has attempted to slap a political colour on the air strike by continually harping on the impending general elections. These efforts must not divide the political establishment. National Conference leader Omar Abdullah may have seen fit to don a ‘political prism’ and point out that nuclear tests and a victory in the Kargil War had not won the BJP a majority in 1999.
The Opposition may have called a meeting to discuss the Indo-Pakistan issue, but their purpose cannot be, as news reports have suggested, to neutralise the ruling party’s ‘surgical strike advantage!’ It is regrettable that party leaders accused the government of politicising the “sacrifices” of the military, provoking their BJP counterparts to respond.
Pakistan’s sabre-rattling after the IAF strike is inevitable. Face-saving stratagems such as violating Indian airspace, resulting in each side losing one of its fighter jets and shutting down its own air space, are a show of strength vis-a-vis its domestic audience as well as a belligerent signal to the international community.
Whether the Indian armed forces score victories or suffer reverses, unconditional solidarity is the need of the hour, if India is to continue its efforts to isolate Pakistan diplomatically and protect its borders by force of arms. The dust is a long way from settling and the threat of a violent backlash looms large over the nation. The ground for dialogue remains hostile, with Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masud Azhar still under the protection of the Pakistani state.
Prescriptions of bilateral talks emanate from international and domestic quarters, but will find few takers even among hardened peaceniks. In these circumstances, politicians across the spectrum have no option but to present a united face. A responsible Opposition will cease to attack the NDA, at least on grounds of national security. In this context, the continuing imbroglio over the Rafale deal is undesirable.
On the very day of the IAF strike against the JeM camps, the Supreme Court decided to hear, in open court, a review petition against its 2018 verdict refusing a court-monitored into the purchase of Rafale fighter jets from the French company, Dassault Aviation (which also manufactured the Mirage 2000s used in the Feb 26 air strike).
The apex court’s decision was the subject of an excited tweet from one of the petitioners, eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan. He and his co-petitioners, former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, would do well to stand down for the moment.
The Congress, which had made a cause celebre of the Rafale deal, is well aware that it will face a severe backlash if it continues to hammer away at Prime Minister Narendra Modi with its chawkidar slogan. Citizens stand together and the public discourse must follow suit.
In the run-up to a general election, the cacophony of angry voices, attacks and counter-attacks, tends to obscure the fact that at the end of the day, we are all on the same side. Nothing reminds us of this more forcibly than an external threat. Pulwama, the IAF strike and events thereafter, have succeeding in doing just that.
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.