After over 40 Central Reserve Police Force jawans were killed in Kashmir on February 14 in one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah have overtly politicised the tragedy, with an eye on the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
At a rally in Lakhimpur in Assam on February 17, for instance, Shah was quoted by ANI as saying: “I pay my tributes to Assam’s son Maneswar Basumatary [one of the victims of the attack], along with the other CRPF personnel. Their sacrifice won’t go in vain as it’s not the Congress government which is at the Centre, it is the BJP which is at the Centre.”
Most Opposition parties, however, have refrained from criticising the BJP leaders for exploiting the deaths for political gain. Nor have they asked the Centre hard questions about the serious intelligence and operational lapses that allowed the attack to be executed in one of the most militarised zones in the world.
Is the Opposition really backing the government and letting it get away with such a massive failure or is there more to it than meets the eye?
“We are just being careful,” explained a senior Congress leader. “Our silence is essentially a pause button in response to the mass hysteria created by pseudo-nationalists in TV studios and out on the streets. The delay in our response should not be seen as a sign of weakness.”
According to this leader, the Congress and the rest of the Opposition are waiting for the jingoism to die down so that serious questions can be asked of the BJP government about its failures on internal security.
A senior Bahujan Samaj Party leader, who did not want to be identified, said that his party’s decision not to question the BJP on the lapses that led to the deadly attack was to prevent the ruling party from creating a narrative that the Opposition was preventing it from responding to terror groups effectively. “We are living in very troubled times and this government has succeeded in creating this perception that anyone questioning their decisions is anti-national,” he said. Scared of being branded as such before the crucial Lok Sabha elections later this year, the Bahujan Samaj Party is also waitng for the jingoism to subside.
The Samajwadi Party is also in no hurry to hold the Union government accountable for the intelligence failure that allowed the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed from carrying out the attack with such success. “As we had claimed earlier, we do not want to do politics on this,” said party spokesperson Naved Siddiqui. “We want revenge and let us see what Modi government does.”
When reminded that Shah had shown no qualms about using the Pulwama attacks to settle political scores, Siddiqui responded that closer to elections, his party would certainly question the BJP about the failures that led to the attack. “There was some leak otherwise how did the terrorists know about CRPF convoy,” he said.
Political commentator Sanjeev Srivastava approved of the Opposition strategy of not politicising the issue. “It is good to be cautious considering they do not want to walk into the BJP’s trap, which has successfully occupied the nationalist space,” he said.
Mamata speaks out
The only Opposition leader who spoke out on the attacks was West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. On Monday, after three days of silence, she lashed out at the BJP. She claimed to be in possession of documents that proved that the Centre had received an intelligence input on February 8 about possible a suicide bombing before the Lok Sabha polls. “Why was no action taken?” she asked.
On the matter of BJP using the attack for electoral gains, she said that her party did not make any political statements immediately after the attack because “we thought we would fight it together”.
“But then we saw, we are sitting quietly but Modi and Amit Shah are roaming around giving speeches,” Banarjee said. “The speeches are like they are the only patriots and everyone else is anti-national.”
Rashtriya Janata Dal vice president Shivanand Tiwari also accused Modi and the BJP of communalising the deaths of soldiers for electoral gains. He too asked questions about the intelligence input Banerjee referred to and how the Modi government “failed to act on it”. “He [Modi] idolises Golwalkar who identified Muslims, Christians and communists as enemies of the Hindu nation,” said Tiwari. “While everyone knows what is happening to communists, they began targeting Muslims to create a Hindu Rashtra and Kashmir remains their main target.”
Ajay Gudavarthy, who teaches Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, believes that the BJP will not let the climate calm down and will continue to push the rhetoric of internal security. “Their attempts to brand Indian Muslims as an internal threat did not become a pan-India issue and that is why they have been raising the Kashmir issue to create that pan-Indian narrative of Kashmiris being India’s biggest security threat,” he said.
Media to blame?
Leaders from Opposition parties also partially blamed the mainstream media for fuelling a hyper-nationalist narrative and failing to grill the Union government. “Who will ask these questions?” asked the Samajwadi Party leader.
The Bahujan Samaj Party leader concurred. “How did the terrorists manage to get 300 kg of explosive inside our territory?” he said. “We are raising these issues but if the media acts like a spokesperson of the government, how will people know?”