India-Pakistan Ties

Sounding nothing like Gujarat CM, Narendra Modi asks Pakistan to declare war – on poverty

From a BJP stage in Kerala, Modi made his first public comments about Uri – and chose to address the people of Pakistan.

Almost a week after militant attacks on an Army base in Kashmir killed 18 Indian soldiers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally spoke in public about the incident – and chose to spend a large part of it directly addressing the people of Pakistan. Modi singled out India's nuclear neighbour for being the source of terror in Asia, but rather than announcing military retribution, called on the people of Pakistan to recognise how this policy was hurting themselves.

"I would like to speak to the people of Pakistan, to tell you that your leaders are misleading you by talking of Kashmir," Modi said, at a public rally that is part of the Bharatiya Janata Party's national conclave in Kozhikode, Kerala. "Both our countries got freedom in the same year. You should ask: why is India known the world over for exporting software, while Pakistan is known to export terror?"

After using the first part of his speech to talk of the BJP's achievements in Kerala and for the people of the state, Modi turned to bring up Uri. The speech was in fact much anticipated because, though other BJP members and the Ministry of External Affairs have said much about Pakistan since the attack, the prime minister himself simply put out a few tweets condemning the terror and saluting the soldiers who were killed.

After a few typical references to "one nation" in Asia that is known for exporting terror, the first surprise came when, instead of focusing just on the Uri attack, Modi chose to add context to the larger Indo-Pak skirmishes along the Line of Control.

"In the last few months, on 17 occasions, fidayeen have tried to infiltrate into India. Our soldiers have killed 110 of them," Modi said. "In one attack the neighbouring country succeeded and 18 soldiers died. If they had succeeded in all 17, can you imagine what might have happened? But our brave soldiers prevented those efforts, they slayed them on the LoC."

Until this point, Modi had yet to even name Pakistan, although he spoke of a "neighbouring nation" that exported terror. Instead, he sought to focus more on the demoralising news of 18 soldiers killed in an attack and said that they were unfortunate casualties of a larger war which, in his telling, India is by and large successful at.

Then the speech brought up another surprise. Standing on a platform in Kerala, speaking to an audience of BJP members at a party conclave, Modi decided to directly address the people of Pakistan – first pointing out that they once were the same as Indians.

"I would like to tell the people of Pakistan that before 1947, your ancestors too used to salute this great land," he said. "Leaders of the neighbouring country used to say they will fight for 1000 years against us. I accept this challenge."

He took this a step further still – making a point that will surely provoke many across the border. "That day is not far when people of Pakistan will get in the fray to fight against their leaders and terrorists," Modi said.

Addressing Pakistan's international policy of focusing on Kashmir, rather than terrorism, Modi again made an unusual choice. "The people of Pakistan please ask your leaders, you have PoK, you could not manage it. Bangladesh used to be yours, you couldn't manage it. You cannot handle Gilgit, Baltistan, Balochistan, Sindh, and you are talking about Kashmir," he said.

Modi finished the speech making the usual noises about India fighting poverty, and becoming a country free of corruption, unemployment and crimes against women.

This is most likely the first of several indications we will get on how the Modi government, which like most Indian administrations, has had a difficult time managing its Pakistan policy, has shifted gears after Uri.

The prime minister is slated to give his fortnightly radio address, Mann ki Baat, on Sunday morning and on Monday evening, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will have a chance to address the world through a speech at the United Nations General Assembly. Those will add more clarity to the Indian position, at least rhetorically, though what is clear is that Modi sees no utility in ramping up the violent rhetoric and doesn't have any interest in talking directly to Pakistan's leaders at the moment either.

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