When the leaders of 21 Opposition parties met in Delhi on Wednesday they were scheduled to chalk out a common minimum programme ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Instead, they unanimously decided to discuss the scheduled agenda another time because of the tension between India and Pakistan. This came after the Congress, for the same reason, postponed its crucial working committee meeting and party president Rahul Gandhi’s rally – which were both scheduled to be held in Ahmedabad on February 28.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Opposition parties discussed the security situation in India. They praised Tuesday’s Indian Air Force strike on a terrorist camp in Pakistan, but also expressed their concern for the safety of the air force pilot captured by Pakistan on Wednesday, saying that they hoped he would make a safe return home.

They castigated the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership for the “blatant politicisation” of sacrifices made by members of the armed forces. Emphasising that national security must “transcend narrow political considerations”, the leaders urged the government to take the nation into confidence on all measures to protect India’s sovereignty, unity and integrity. They attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not convening an all-party meeting as “per the established practice in our democracy” to discuss the escalating tension with Pakistan.

Opposition statement

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi made the opening remarks at the meeting, where she suggested that the common minimum programme could be discussed at another time. The leaders of the other parties concurred.

A statement issued by them at the end of the day said: “The meeting of leaders of 21 political parties condemned the dastardly Pulwama terror attack by Pakistan sponsored terrorists of Jaish-e-Mohammaed on 14th Feb 2019. The meeting paid homage to our martyrs and expressed solidarity with our armed forces in crushing the menace of terrorism.”

One of the leaders present at the meeting claimed that Congress President Rahul Gandhi asked political parties to wait for few days before coming up with a strategy to take on the Modi government ahead of the crucial elections. “Rahul said that the Opposition should wait for the jingoism to die down before a clear strategy is devised on how to corner the government over its failure to maintain internal security,” said the leader.

‘BJP politicising IAF attack’

He said that Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and Telugu Desam Party leader Chandrababu Naidu pointed out at the meeting that Modi was using the strike by the Indian Air Force in Pakistan for political gains. Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar said he was concerned that the BJP could win a second term by doing this.

The leader said that the Aam Aadmi Party leadership was keen on aggressively tackling the Union government over the BJP’s use of the Pulwama attack for political profit, and that Janata Dal (S) politician Danish Ali expressed concerns about the prevailing situation in Kashmir, saying that the government was fomenting unrest there.

The leader pointed out how the BJP and Modi are engaged in business as usual despite the tense situation with Pakistan. “Why can’t the BJP postpone the prime minister’s interaction with one crore booth-level party workers across the country through the Namo application,” he said. “The party will also do the live broadcast of the programme on its various social media platforms. After all, Congress also postponed its working committee meeting citing the prevailing situation. If this is not politicisation, what is?”

‘Imran Khan making more sense’

Reacting to the statement released on Wednesday by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who urged the Indian government to peacefully resolve the matter, a senior Opposition party leader said the prime minister of a failed state was making more sense talking about peace as compared to the Indian leadership.

Apart from the parties mentioned above, others who participated in the meeting included the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Communist Party of India, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, Hindustani Awam Morcha, Indian Union Muslim League and Swabhimani Paksha.