Union minister of state SS Ahluwalia has claimed that the Indian air strikes in Pakistan were only meant as a warning and refuted media reports which claimed over 300 casualties in the strike.
“Did Modi say that 300 people have been killed?” Ahluwalia, the minister of state for electronics and information technology, said at a press conference in West Bengal’s Siliguri on Saturday. The video of his speech was shared by some Opposition leaders.
“Has any BJP spokesperson said it? Has Amit Shah said it anywhere? Why was there no destruction? By throwing a bomb next to your house, it was made clear that we can destroy you. That was what was needed. We didn’t want any human casualty,” he is heard saying in the video.
On February 26, the Centre had said the Indian Air Force struck the biggest camp of the terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad in Balakot, Pakistan, and said the operation eliminated a “very large number” of terrorists and trainers. India called it a “non-military preemptive action”.
Multiple media reports, quoting unidentified officials, had pegged the number of casualties at over 300, and some estimated it at even 600. The Indian Air Force has refused to give any number officially, and said it would be premature to give an estimate.
Speaking to PTI on Sunday, Ahluwalia said neither government officials nor ministers had given an official figure of the casualties. “I was asked whether I stand by the government’s statement or by the reports of Indian media which have said 300 to 350 terrorists where killed,” Ahluwalia, an MP from Darjeeling, said. “I stand by the government’s statement. How can I vouch for media reports?”
Congress leader Omprakash Mishra and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) shared the video of the press conference on social media.
“No terrorists killed in Pakistan by our airstrike,” Mishra said on Facebook. “BJP MP and central minister Ahluwalia says media reported about killing of terrorists but BJP never said so. PM did not claim so.”
The CPI (M) asked if the government was backtracking from its claims on striking a terror camp in Pakistan. “If what the Minister says is correct, then what it means is that Modi Govt has connived with lies pedaled by the jingoistic media [and] taken the country for a ride,” the tweeted. “They now say they deliberately did not take the terrorists out as they did not want human casualties.”
Last week, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee demanded that the Centre share details about the air strikes. She asked for the number of casualties. The Bharatiya Janata Party criticised Banerjee for questioning the air strikes.
Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien on Saturday accused BJP ministers of “leaking exaggerated numbers” to the media about the casualties.