The public relations blitzkrieg by the Modi government put out in the wake of the the Indian army’s operation against North East insurgents seems to have provoked a backlash from Myanmar, which reiterated it sovereignty and categorically denied that Indian forces had entered its territory.

On Wednesday, a day after the India’s retaliatory strike against insurgents believed to be behind the Manipur ambush on June 4 that left 20 soldiers dead, the army put out a measured statement that did not mention that Indian forces had crossed over into Myanmar and took care to point out that the operation had been carried out by working along with the Myanmar authorities.

Within a few hours, however, selective leaks to the media meant that the operation was being billed as one of “hot pursuit” – Indian forces, had apparently entered Myanmar and smashed insurgent camps. What’s more, some leaks also tended to portray that Indian forces had done this without the permission of the Myanmar government. The leaks reached such a crescendo that even purported pictures of the special forces team which had carried out the raid were published in the media.

What was meant to be a covert operation really wasn’t so covert anymore.

A few hours after the army’s press release, the government deputed military veteran and Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Rathore to lead its communication on this matter.

Rathore didn’t hold back, doing his best to mine political capital from this army operation. He openly claimed on TV that the Indian army had crossed over into Myanmar in “hot pursuit” on the order of Prime Minister Modi himself.

Playing to the gallery, he even went so far as to claim this was a message to Pakistan. “If Pakistan attempts such strikes into India, we will strike back at the time and place of our choosing,” warned Rathore.

But the next day, the Union Minister for Defence, Rao Inderjit Singh refuted his colleague. “We did not use hot pursuit,” said Singh. “We contacted the Burma authorities before the attack”.

Myanmar's retraction

Reacting early to the raid, Zaw Htay, director of the office of Myanmar President, confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that Indian forces had crossed over into Myanmar. Within a day, however, Htay seems to have retracted this statement. “The military operation was performed on the Indian side at India-Myanmar border,” Htay said.

The retraction points to the damage India chest-thumping on this issue can do. India has enjoyed growing ties with Myanmar, with a number of agreements signed to act jointly against insurgents in the North East. These multiple leaks and claims regarding the Indian army entering Myanmar and violating its sovereignty will surely not go down well in Myanmar. “For any government to accept that another country has come into its territory is a difficult thing,” said Obja Hazarika, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Dibrugarh University. “This attack isn’t going to be the last one. How you handle the aftermath would determine how Myanmar would react”.

This isn’t the first time in its year in office that the Modi government had gone to town with an issue of national security and tried to score political points. In February, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar claimed that the Coast Guard had intercepted a boat off the coast of Gujarat. As per the government’s claim, the boat’s crew had set itself on fire after it was pursued by a Coast Guard team. Parrikar argued that since the crew had destroyed the boat and committed suicide, it proved the boat was carrying terrorists from Pakistan.

Soon, however, a Deputy Inspector General of the Coast Guard directly contradicted the government's version. The DIG claimed that the Coast Guard had blown the boat up, thus strengthening the theory that in fact the vessel might have been involved in nothing more serious than smuggling.