A rare display of unity was witnessed between opposition and ruling parties during the all-party meeting called on Thursday after the Indian Army announced earlier in the day that it had launched surgical strikes at terror launchpads along the Line of Control on Wednesday night.

After militants infiltrated an Army camp in Kashmir's Uri and killed 18 soldiers on September 18, there was immense pressure on the government to take strong action against Pakistan, which India has blamed for the attack. Given the public mood, the opposition, led by the Congress, had no choice but to back the Narendra Modi government for these strikes.

The announcement about the surgical strikes, which reportedly caused significant casualties to militants, was made at a joint press conference led by the Indian Army's Director General of Military Operations Ranbir Singh and the Ministry of External Affairs.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi congratulated the country’s armed forces and told the National Democratic Alliance government that her party supported its move to secure the country’s borders and tackle terrorism. Ranbir Singh had said that the strikes had been carried out based on “very credible and specific information” that terrorist teams had positioned themselves along the LoC with plans to carry out strikes in Jammu and Kashmir.

Face-lift for Modi

The Opposition’s support comes as a shot in the arm for Modi, who had been under pressure from various quarters after the Uri attack.

On the one hand, opposition parties had taunted him for not taking any decisive action after the raid despite his strong anti-Pakistan stance during the United Progressive Alliance government’s rule and his promises on taking firm action against terrorism in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. Modi, as Gujarat chief minister, had often called the Manmohan Singh government weak for showing restraint against Pakistan and talking peace with the neighbouring country. On the other hand, pressure was building up on Modi even from within the Bharatiya Janata Party for concrete action against Pakistan.

In one stroke, Wednesday night’s operation strengthened Modi’s position within the party, silenced his critics and boosted his public image. This also stands the party in good stead ahead of the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections next year, where the BJP can project Modi as a tough-talking leader who is determined to stamp out terrorism and is willing to take on Pakistan in this quest.

Support from all quarters

Earlier on Thursday, Sonia Gandhi issued a statement indicating the Congress’ support ahead of the all-party meeting that had been called by Home Minister Rajnath Singh to brief politicians about Wednesday’s operation.

“The Congress party stands with the government in its actions today to protect our country’s security and deal with the menace of terrorism from across the border,” she said.

Congratulating the armed forces, the Congress president this was a strong message “that conveys our country’s resolve to prevent further infiltration and attacks on our security forces and our people”.

Other Opposition leaders, including Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, also backed the operation in statements issued on Thursday. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), however, walked a cautious line, neither opposing nor wholeheartedly supporting the government’s action.

The party’s politburo said that the CPI(M) expects that there will be no “further escalation of hostilities” and that incidents like Uri and Pathankot will not recur.

“The CPI(M) has always maintained that the safety and security of our people from cross border terrorism must be ensured,” the party said in statement after the meeting. "We urge upon the Government of India to continue with the diplomatic and political moves to defuse tensions.”

Forced to retreat

The Congress president’s statement was released shortly after she conferred with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had been personally briefed by Modi on the operation, former defence minister A K Antony and Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. This was the first time after the Uri attacks that Sonia Gandhi and senior Congress leaders met to decide the party’s formal view on the matter.

Party officials had admitted in private that the Congress leadership had failed to convene a meeting of the party’s working committee post the Uri attacks to put on record its views on the raid and the government action.

While Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is leading a month-long kisan yatra to reach out to farmers in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, Sonia Gandhi had been lying low after she fell ill during a roadshow in Varanasi on August 3.

With the top leadership missing in action, it was up to leaders like party’s communications head Randeep Singh Surjewala and spokesperson Manish Tewari to attack the government for its response to the Uri attack, which had largely focused on declaring Pakistan a terror state and hinting at a review of the Indus Waters Treaty on the sharing of rivers between the two countries and the Most Favoured Nation status to the neighbouring country, which gives it certain trade advantages.

This muted attack too the Congress was forced to withdraw with news of Wednesday’s surgical strikes.