Technically speaking, Prime Minister Narendra Modi still hasn't told us about the surgical strikes.
He was expected to bring up last week's Indian Army attacks on terror launchpads along the Line of Control while speaking at Dussera rally in Lucknow on Tuesday. Indeed, the political conversations before the prime minister's speech have revolved around parties blaming each other for politicising the extremely political decision to carry out the strikes. But, as in his Kerala speech after the Uri attacks, Modi delivered a surprise, spending as much time talking about the evils within Indian society as he did about global terror. And he didn't mention Pakistan at all.
"Terrorism is the enemy of humanity," Modi said at the Vijaydashami Rally in Lucknow, just before the massive effigy of Raavan, a mythological character from the Ramayana, was about to be ceremonially burnt down. "Who fought terrorism first? Was it a fauji or a neta? The Ramayana tells us that the first to fight terrorism was Jatayu, for the sake of a woman’s honour. We might not be able to embody Ram, but we could try to be like Jatayu."
In the Ramayana, one of India's two major epics, Jatayu is a divine vulture who first spots the abduction of Ram's wife Sita by Raavan and attempts to prevent it, only to have his wings chopped off. Modi spoke of the difficulty of trying to be like Ram, a mythical king who is held up as a perfectly moral being, and instead held up Jatayu as an example – adding that the evils he was talking of fighting are not just terrorism."Corruption, filth, bad character, disease, and illiteracy are the Raavans of our society. We need freedom from these Raavans as well," Modi said. "We should resolve to punish Ravan each year. But have we also considered how we treat our Sitas? We kill so many Sitas every year in the womb. The protection of our Sitas in our homes is our duty. We need to celebrate birth of girl child."
In the run-up to the Lucknow speech, there was much discussion over whether Modi would bring up the surgical strikes – which were seen as an assertion of the Bharatiya Janata Party's promise to make India more muscular nation that will not cow down to Pakistan-sponsored terror. Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah insisted that his party was not politicising the strikes, even as posters turned up all over Uttar Pradesh – where Assembly elections are due next year – celebrating Modi and Shah as the "Avengers of Uri", the Indian Army base where 19 soldiers were killed by militants last month.
Modi did not add his two bits to the rather tedious question of whether to politicise the strikes – which, since it is an inherently political act, is a meaningless question – and instead focused on reiterating his narrative that India will lead the global anti-terror push.
"In 1992-1993, when I spoke with the US State Department about terrorism, they said it is your domestic law and order problem. After 9/11 they understood," Modi said. "Terrorism had no borders and all human should unite against it. Uproot the terrorists and those who support them must also not be forgiven... Today as we burn Raavan, all of humanity must stand united against terrorism. Without ending it, we cannot save humanity."
From the very beginning of his tenure, Modi has pushed to get the international community to define terrorism and work harder to end it, a move that is aimed primarily at Pakistan, which India accuses of sponsoring and abetting militancy in Kashmir and terror strikes like the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
But while he's shored up his domestic political credentials with the surgical strikes, especially ahead of elections in UP and Punjab, the actual effort to reduce Pakistani militancy and global terror will not be so easy.
Next week, as the BRICS countries meet, Modi will face the challenge of convincing China to drop its hold preventing a United Nations ban on Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar. India believes Azhar is responsible for terror, but China's vice foreign minister this week said the country was opposed to anyone making "political gains in the name of counter-terrorism," a clear reference to Beijing's policy of supporting Pakistan.
But while foreign challenges remaind, at home, even without mentioning the surgical strikes, the imagery of Modi following in the footsteps of Ram – explicitly laid out in the BJP's billboards, implicitly suggested in the prime minister's speech and tapping into a deeper religious and political stream that UP knows well – has been put in place.