On February 26, as news broke that the Indian Air Force had bombed suspected terrorist camps run by the Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pakistan’s Balakot, Indian social media users erupted in celebration. It was the first air strike India had carried out across the Line of Control since the 1971 war.
This “non-military preemptive action”, as the Indian government described it, came in the wake of the February 14 Pulwama attack in which at least 40 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force were killed. On Wednesday morning, the front pages of many newspapers described the strike as India avenging the Pulwama attack.
By afternoon, both India and Pakistan claimed to have shot down each other’s fighter aircraft. India’s foreign ministry confirmed that a pilot was missing in action after his plane was shot down; Pakistan claimed the pilot was in their custody.
As tensions escalated between the nuclear-armed neighbours, Scroll.in asked some ordinary citizens what they thought about the unfolding events. Did they agree with the Narendra Modi government’s decision to order the air strike? Would it influence their voting choices in the upcoming election? Were they apprehensive about a war breaking out with Pakistan?
Here’s what they said.
In Delhi: ‘I will send my sons to fight’
Dharam Nath, 47, a factory worker, argued that the strike was necessary. “We are with Modi,” he said. “The atmosphere is just right. If there are attacks on Pakistan they should continue. I have two sons and if there is a war, then I will send them to fight. If the country is in trouble, then it has to be done. Elections can happen later.”
Nath claimed the attack would influence how he votes in the upcoming election.
Ranbir Kumar, another factory worker from West Delhi, wondered why the media was not questioning the government in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack. “It is such a big attack and an intelligence failure,” said Kumar, 28. “Modi made so many promises. But he has not delivered. The attack was bad and we condemn it but the real issues like unemployment are getting buried. Everyone is a patriot but I know they [the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party] will take advantage of this attack. We need to solve the problems within the country first.”
Kumar also said the air strike and consequent tensions between India and Pakistan would affect his voting choice. He, however, felt that elections should be fought on issues such as education, health and employment. “Even if there is war, we cannot fight if we are hungry,” he added. “There should not be one.”
Rafiq Haider, 43, a resident of East Delhi’s Mandawali, said his biggest worry at the moment was that he might lose his job as an assistant at a hardware store. “There is great advertisement of the country outside but nothing inside,” he said. “How is it that people could enter the country and cause an attack? Do we not have the latest technology? How many jawans do they want to martyr? We will remember this and vote.”
Haider thought the problem of unemployment was a bigger concern for the country right now.
In Mumbai: ‘I feel safe knowing the PM is a strong man’
Anil Advani, 60, a shoe shop owner, was among those who felt jubilant about the air strike on Tuesday. As the tensions escalated on Wednesday morning, Advani said he was looking forward to the Indian military striking back more intensely. “After 48 years, since the war of 1971, we have a prime minister who has the guts to carry out an operation of this magnitude,” he added. “We are very lucky to have Modi as our PM and we should all support him as he takes action against the rogue nation of Pakistan.”
To claims that the strike in Pakistan was a political stunt by the ruling party, Advani said, “No one will risk putting so many lives on the line just to win an election.”
The strike would definitely influence his voting preference, Advani said. “Security of the nation is the most important role of the government and as an ordinary citizen, I feel very safe now, knowing that my PM is a strong man,” he added.
In stark contrast to Advani, street vendor Prakash Jaising slammed the government for choosing to strike deep into Pakistan. “What is happening is not good at all,” said Jaisingh, 69, who sells socks and handkerchiefs on a Mumbai pavement. “I have heard that the Modi government has asked the armed forces to do whatever they want to take revenge against Pakistan, but now we are almost at war. If terrorists have killed our people, we should arrest them, punish them. All this war and killing is never good for anyone.”
Jaisingh said he was no longer inclined to vote for the BJP. “Modi gave us note ban which ruined the businesses of so many poor people like me. And now everyone is praising him for attacking Pakistan. But I will not vote for him.”
Businessman Shankar Ahwad praised the decision to strike in Pakistan but credited the Air Force alone for the operation. “It’s election season and all political parties will want to take the credit for something like this. But what our army does is a separate issue which should not be politicised,” said Ahwad, who was unfazed by the news of Pakistani and Indian jets shooting each other down. “Our air force is fighting for the jawans who lost their lives in the Pulwama attack. They will do a good job.”
Ahwad said he would cast his vote after analysing the government’s performance on issues such as inflation and unemployment. “Right now the middle class is in a bad state because of inflation and because there are no jobs available for young people,” he said.
In Kerala: ‘India was forced to act’
Pran Prakash, an engineering student in Thiruvananthapuram, claimed the air strike was necessitated by Pakistan’s “negative attitude”. “India was forced to act and the government took a timely decision,” he said. “I am proud of that.”
Pran, 19, will vote for the first time in the upcoming election. But the air strike, he said, would not influence his choice. “How can it change my voting preference?” he asked. “The union government did what it was supposed to do to protect the people.”
Pran said he would vote for a candidate who is educated and can bring development to his constituency.
In North Kerala’s Kasaragod, Saraswathi K felt the Modi government took the right decision to strike in Pakistan after the Pulwama attack. “It was a collective decision,” said Saraswathi, 50, who runs a women’s tailoring unit. “But Modi may get mileage for this. It is quite natural in politics. If Manmohan Singh was in power, he would also have tried to increase his popularity.”
Majumdar, an autorickshaw driver in Kochi, believed the air strike was not a political decision. “The government was forced to act against Pakistan to ensure India’s safety,” he said.
Both Saraswathi and Majumdar, however, claimed it would not influence their voting preferences in the upcoming election.
“I am more concerned about political violence in Kasaragod and the issue of women’s entry into Sabarimala,” said Saraswathi.
Majumdar too felt the Sabarimala row would dominate the election in Kerala.
In Chennai: ‘Everyone should live in peace’
Saranya G, a social work student in Chennai, argued that the government’s priority should be to ensure the Central Reserve Police Force was well-equipped to prevent sudden terrorist attacks. “Instead of spending crores of rupees on building a statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat, the government should have spent money on the modernisation of armoured vehicles,” she said. “We cannot anticipate such attacks but by equipping the Army with modernised tanks or armoured vehicles, the attack on them could have been averted.”
Concerned the air strike could further strain the relationship between India and Pakistan, she urged for prompt measures to establish peace and amity. “Everyone should live in peace,” she said.
Saranya asked for the Indian military’s operation not to be politicised. As for herself, she claimed it would not be a factor in her voting decision. “I am clear I will only press the None of the Above option on the ballot,” she explained. “I am not happy with any of the political parties. They have not done anything to uplift the downtrodden.”
The government, she said, should focus on providing equal education to all: “There should not be ICSE or CBSE, state syllabus. Students, irrespective of their economic background, should be provided the same education. That should be the main agenda of any political party.”
Taxi driver K Ramesh argued that the air strike was about the Air Force performing its duty after the Pulwama attack and not an occasion to celebrate Modi. Politics and defence, he said, should not be linked. “Elections and the Army are different things,” he explained. “I will vote for the person whom I believe deserves to be elected.”
Ramesh asked the government to attend to the needs of those below the poverty line. “They should take measures to provide jobs and give houses to the impoverished,” he said.
In Assam: ‘War helps no one’
Rikumoni Rajkhowa, a women’s rights activist in Golaghat, reserved her judgement on the air strike. “Like everyone else, I want terrorism to be wiped out, but I do not know if the approach India has taken is feasible,” she said. “Now we are almost on the verge of war and war helps no one.”
She insisted the recent turn of events would not affect who she votes for. “There are many other local issues in the tea gardens I work in,” she explained.
Bedanta Kumar Phukan, a lawyer, offered an opposite view. “I am proud India finally retaliated,” he said. “It should have happened long back. It’s cemented our position as a powerful country.”
Phukan said the Modi government’s decision had won him over. “The BJP was on the back foot here in Assam, but the strike has definitely made their position stronger. It will certainly impact the way I vote.”
The Modi government may be found wanting in providing jobs and social security to a large section of the population, Phukan said, but its muscular approach to national security was praiseworthy. “Everything has its place, and jobs and social security are important,” he said. “But so is defending the nation’s integrity.”
Sisuram Bora, a government employee in Upper Assam, took a more moderate view. The air strike, he said, was “a very good thing”. “But I wish the government does not politicise it to garner votes,” he said.
Bora claimed his vote would be decided by more local concerns. “Any government would defend our land,” he said. “That’s not any reason to vote for a party.”