Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the United Progressive Alliance government had conducted “multiple surgical strikes” but did not believe in using them to win votes, the Hindustan Times reported on Thursday. Singh’s remarks come at a time when the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance has made national security one of the main talking points of its election campaign.

Asked how he sees the Bharatiya Janata Party’s pitch of projecting Narendra Modi as one of the strongest PMs who gave a decisive response to terror attacks, Singh said any compromise on the national security is unacceptable. He, however, added that the February 14 terror attack in Pulwama was an intelligence failure. “40 of our brave CRPF soldiers were martyred in the Pulwama terror attack at the most secure National Highway in the country,” said Singh. “This is a grave intelligence and national security failure.”

“Since then, it has come out that CRPF and BSF were requesting for airlifting the soldiers but the Modi government refused it,” the former prime minister added. “Government also ignored solid intelligence inputs from J&K police about an IED attack, besides turning a blind eye to a video warning of a terrorist organisation.”

Singh added that the Modi government made a strategic blunder by inviting the ISI to investigate the Pathankot Air Base terror attack. “This demoralised our armed forces,” he said.

Singh said his UPA government decided to “isolate and diplomatically expose Pakistan as a terror hub” instead of taking the military route after the Mumbai attacks in 2008. “Within 14 days of the Mumbai attack, we got China to agree to declare [Lashkar-e-Taiba chief] Hafiz Saeed as a global terrorist,” Singh said. “The UPA ensured that a $10 million bounty was placed on the head of the Mumbai attack perpetrator and the founder of Pakistan-based LeT by America.”

Singh alleged that it was Narendra Modi, who was then the Gujarat chief minister, who opposed the government’s proposal of a coastal security mechanism via the National Counter Terrorism Centre.

Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah and Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have often criticised Manmohan Singh for his government’s response to 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. During the election campaign, the BJP has been projecting Modi as a strong and decisive leader compared to his predecessors.

To this, Singh said Indira Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri were determined and decisive leaders too. “There cannot be any comparison between their greatness and the pettiness of the present regime,” he said. “Neither Mrs Gandhi nor her predecessor took away the credit of our armed forces [in the 1971 or 1965 wars with Pakistan].”

The Modi government has disclosed details of two strikes against Pakistan. On September 29, 2016, the Indian Army claimed to have carried out “surgical strikes on terror launchpads” across the Line of Control to neutralise alleged infiltrators in response to the terror attack in Uri. On February 26, 2019, the Indian Air Force said it had attacked terror camps in Balakot, Pakistan. The Balakot airstrike was in response to the February 14 Pulwama attack, in which 40 security personnel were killed.

Singh criticised the Narendra Modi-led government for its “unpardonable failures on the economic front”. He said the current dispensation was trying to “hide behind the valour of the armed forces”.

Asked if he would be a part of the government if the Congress manages to come back to power, Singh said, “Time has come to pass the leadership mantle to the young.’’