The Opposition on Thursday criticised Prime Narendra Modi for holding campaign rallies at a time when the country was hoping for the safe return of the Indian Air Force pilot who is currently in the custody of Pakistan’s armed forces.

India and Pakistan on Wednesday claimed that they had shot down each others’ fighter jets, a day after the Indian Air Force had struck a Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. India said Pakistan had attempted to target military installations in Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday and confirmed that a pilot of its Air Force was missing in action after the operation.

The Ministry of External Affairs has demanded the safe return of Indian Air Force’s Wing Commander Abhinandan, who was arrested on Wednesday by the Pakistan Air Force.

Modi addressed his party workers through a video conference on Thursday. The event, dubbed the “world’s largest” by the BJP, is part of the saffron party’s political campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections this year.

Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala said Modi was only “desperate for re-election”. “Pradhan Sevak hell-bent on creating a Video Conf. [conference] record,” he wrote on Twitter.

“It is shameful that while India awaits the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan, our Prime Time PM cannot stop campaigning even for a few minutes,” the Congress tweeted. “We stand with our soldiers and will continue to question the Modi Govt on their apathy.”

Also read: BJP and Modi stick to political schedule, despite war fears and a captured Indian pilot

Even as the reports of Pakistani incursion came on Wednesday morning, Modi had attended the National Youth Parliament Festival where he launched the Khelo India app. Home Minister Rajnath Singh held a security meeting in New Delhi, at a time when both India and Pakistan announced the closure of airports. But then Singh left New Delhi for Chhattisgarh, where he addressed a BJP rally, telling party workers to work hard in the upcoming elections.

Amid the tensions between India and Pakistan, the Congress Working Committee’s meeting, to be held on Thursday, was postponed. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi were expected to attend the meeting as well as address the Jan Sankalp rally in Ahmedabad.

On Wednesday, 21 Opposition parties had issued a joint statement condemning the Bharatiya Janata Party’s “blatant politicisation” of the sacrifices made by the Indian armed forces.

Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh had on Wednesday questioned the BJP’s timing for the mega-video conference. “The entire Opposition is concerned over national security,” Singh had tweeted. “Arvind Kejriwal postponed his hunger strike over full-statehood issue. Congress cancelled its CWC and the Opposition is worrying about unity of the nation. Modi ji is getting down to strengthen polling booths and the BJP is busy with election rallies.”

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati also criticised the prime minister for his booth connect programme. “At a time when India is facing hostility of war and country needs firm leadership, PM Narendra Modi instead of concentrating on the matters of national security trying to serve political interest by addressing his BJP workers is ridiculous besides betrayal of national sentiments,” she tweeted.

National Conference leader and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said Modi’s decision to “continue” with his election campaigning indicates that the Indian Air Force pilot in Pakistan’s custody will definitely return in a few days or that the prime minister “does not care enough”.

On Wednesday, Abdullah had called for a suspension of all political activity until the pilot is returned safely.

Samajwadi Party chief and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav also criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party for continuing to campaign for the elections. “Even when our pilot is missing, everything – even national security –is seen through the lens of public relations and votes,” Yadav said. “The BJP only knows the politics of distraction, lies, branding and marketing. Those who worship power will only be consumed by it.”

Yadav cited Bharatiya Janata Party leader BS Yeddyurappa’s comments on the Indian Air Force air strike to elaborate his criticism of the ruling party. Yeddyurappa on Wednesday said the air strikes against a terror camp in Pakistan will help the BJP win more than 22 seats in the state in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

After urging Modi to cancel the event on Wednesday, Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal criticised the prime minister for going ahead with the election campaigning. “While the nation is trying to rally in solidarity with the soldiers, you [Modi] are trying to strengthen your vote bank,” Kejriwal said in a tweet. “It the nation is strong, your votes will be strong. If the soldiers are strong, every Indian will be strong.

Earlier on Thursday, Kejriwal had requested Modi to reschedule his campaign event and focus his energy on “getting the IAF pilot back to safety”

Also read:

1) Capture of IAF pilot: Here’s how Pakistan must treat him under the Geneva conventions

2) Five questions Pakistan needs to answer after the air strikes (and four that India still hasn’t)

3) ‘Don’t politicise this’: How people from across India reacted to the IAF strike on Pakistan