The Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be stuck in a paradox loop. The things it orders other parties to avoid, the ruling party itself does with pathetic consistency.
The latest example of the chasm between the BJP’s advice to others and its own actions is the blatant politicisation of the military action against Pakistan last week. The air force strike came in wake of a suicide bomb attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Pulwama in Kashmir on February 14 that killed at least 40 jawans.
In Patna on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the Opposition parties of politicising the air strikes on Pakistan, claiming that their demand for proof of the damage caused by operation was demeaning to the armed forces. He also accused the Opposition of making statements that were “beneficial to the enemy”.
Modi’s allegation sounded familiar. After all, he was repeating the argument made by the BJP after the “surgical strikes” in response to the attacks on an Indian Army brigade headquarters in Uri in 2016.
Still, even though Modi pointed his finger at the Opposition on Sunday, he showed no hesitation in giving the attacks his own political spin at an India Today conclave the previous day. “Today, India is speaking in one voice and saying what all could have happened if we had Rafale,” he said, referring to the French-made fighter jets that he struck a controversial deal to buy. The first planes will be delivered to India in September. The BJP has maintained that the previous Congress-led government had dragged its feet on acquiring them. The Opposition claims that the deal with France gives favours a company owned by businessman Anil Ambani.
It isn’t clear what different outcome Modi suggested the Rafale could have helped achieve. What was abundantly clear, though, was Modi’s attempt to neutralise any attempt by the Opposition to use the contentious Rafale deal as a plank in the campaign for the elections that are only months away.
Modi is also attempting to ward off questions about the specific success of the strikes on the terror camp in Pakistan, given the doubts that have emerged in the international media over the last few days about the precise nature of the targets that were hit.
There is also uncertainty about the number of terrorists killed in the attack. On Sunday, BJP president Amit Shah claimed that over 250 terrorists had been killed. However, at a press conference on Thursday, military officers made it clear that it was difficult to put a precise number to the casualities. Shah was using the military operation to make what has now become his stock argument: the BJP government is more courageous than the previous governments which were soft on terror.
This strategy of using the military action to play politics has trickled down to the lower rungs of the BJP. On Sunday, Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari chose to campaign in military fatigues, an attempt to capitalise on the goodwill enjoyed by the armed forces.
If the BJP believes that military action against Pakistan should not become a pretext for political mudslinging, it should stop hiding behind the troops as it hurls its own missiles at the Opposition.