New Delhi: The multiple voices emanating from within the BJP on the casualties at Balakot may result in the party losing the battle of public perception. Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was expected to lay the matter to rest but she merely said that “the Indian government’s stand on the casualty figure is the same as contained in the Foreign Secretary’s statement.”
She was referring to the briefing by Vijay Gokhale the day the air strike took place. However, intriguingly, the foreign secretary had not given any ‘figure’. Nonetheless, Sitharaman’s statement clearly hints that estimates of 250 to 300 terrorists perishing in the Balakot air strike was mere guess work.
But when asked whether the government would release satellite imagery of the area targeted during the air strike, the cryptic response was: “Well I can’t say as of now.” Incidentally, the ministry statement had said: “In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated.”
To the discomfort of the government, Home Minister Rajnath Singh joined the debate and pointed out with obvious sarcasm that if Congress leaders were keen on knowing the exact number of casualties in the strike, they should go to the neighbouring country and count the bodies.
“Some Opposition leaders are asking how many terrorists were killed in the IAF strike. Today or tomorrow, it will be known. Pakistan and their leaders know how many were killed,’’ he said and then added, tongue in cheek, “Should our Air Force go and count the bodies after the attack — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…? What is this joke?”
The Home Minister also had a dig at the Congress for “not believing” an assessment by the National Technical Research Organisation which had said some 300 mobile phones were active at Balakot just before 12 Mirage 2000 aircraft dropped laser-guided bombs on the terror camp.
The NTRO is the country’s top technical analysis and intelligence-gathering agency that can track and eavesdrop on communications. The organisation is under the direct control of the Prime Minister’s Office. The Opposition has been clamouring for proof of the casualties in the air strike in view of the multiple claims emanating from within the BJP.
While the Air Force has not given any casualty figure, insisting that it was not their job to the count the dead, BJP president Amit Shah has claimed over 250 terrorists were killed in the operation. Another discordant voice, in this respect, has been that of BJP Union minister S. S.
Ahluwalia who said that the purpose of the strike was to send a message to Pakistan and not to inflict casualties. As a sceptical opposition rushed to question these conflicting claims, Union Minister VK Singh said Shah’s was not a confirmed figure but an estimate. He also explained that it was based on projections about the number of people present in the targeted buildings.
Lashing out at the Congress demand for proof, he called it a “waste of time” and said it was not a “game of marbles”. The Minister of State for External Affairs also said no proof is given about action by forces and asked whether anybody was given proof during the wars since 1947. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in turn, has cited newspaper reports to point out that a number of ambulances were present at the spot after the strike.