Minutes after the Indian Army announced on Thursday, that it had carried out “surgical strikes on terror launchpads” across the Line of Control, Indian social media began to light up in celebration.

Supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, journalists who had foreseen war before anyone else and fans of the Indian Army felt vindicated. The crowing was not unlike the virtual chest-thumping post an India-Pakistan cricket match, or any time we do better than the boys next door.

Status messages, web graphics, even doctored images began to circulate on Facebook, Twitter, Quora, WhatsApp and Instagram.

The first cry for celebrations to continue offline, came from BJP Youth Wing leader and President of the Bhagat Singh Kranti group, Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga. Bagga exhorted his followers and other Indians, to join him in celebrating the surgical strike at India Gate on Thursday evening.

Given Bagga’s massive following, the message began to echo across platforms.

The venue

At 6.30 pm, the only flags in sight at India Gate belonged to the Indian defence forces: jal, vayu, thal. The young naval officer manning the perimeter of the Amar Jawan Jyoti, Nitish Kumar Singh, said he’d heard nothing about a celebration, and had received no special instructions for the day.

“Next week, some people from the army will be stationed here,” he said. “Maybe they will know more about it."

Around him, a regular evening at India Gate unfolded – a man wearing red devil horns tossed neon lights into the sky, the toy descended amidst a breeze of soapy bubbles. People took selfies, and when they tired of that, photographed two dogs sleeping near the Amar Jawan Jyoti. Young couples posed for Facebook likes.

Asked if they were there for the party, a couple seated near an ice-cream stand looked confused. They were visiting India Gate for the first time, they explained, and looking for someone who could tell them why the British had given it to India, after being responsible for the death of so many Indians.

“I have a lot of questions,” said Vinay, 22. “Google doesn’t always have the answer. "For instance, was Gandhi a good man?” His friend Jyoti ate her candy floss in silence.

Vinay’s father was in the army, posted at Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand. He recalled an evening he’d spent in Rajasthan as a child, when his father had left for a mission, and his mother and neighbours were asked to evacuate the barracks.

“I don’t remember much except the sky turning grey, brown, black," he said. "It was scary, our father only returned two days later.”

“At least he returned," Jyoti said, offering him a cloud of pink floss.

The almost-celebration

"Bharat Mata ki Jai!"

The cry rang out from near the perimeter. A group of men had pulled a flag out of a polythene bag, and stood behind it in a row. One smiled, two looked solemn, one took photographs and another negotiated with a policeman.


“Sir but don’t you think we have reason to celebrate today? We have answered them for Uri,” Jaljit Singh said.

“All I know is you can’t shout slogans here,” impassive, Inspector Navneet Singh replied.

“You are right sir,” Jaljit Singh said. “We will simply stand with our flag and pay respect,”.

“The thing is, there’s a permanent Section 144 here at India Gate,” which debars crowds from gathering, Inspector Navneet Singh said.

But what about that time we won the World Cup, someone asked, the night that all of Delhi had shown up here, with dhols and firecrackers?

“Those were different days,” the Inspector said, finally cracking a smile.


Standing silently with the flag didn’t feel much like a celebration. The crowd that had gathered around the men, drawn by their cheers and an exciting sense of anticipation on a cool evening, now began to disperse. A young girl posed for a half-hearted photograph. After ten minutes, the flag was returned to its polythene bag.

Where did they find it?

“This is my personal flag,” the eldest of the men, Dalbir Singh said. “I bought it in Karol Bagh.”

Dalbir Singh was a civil contractor for the army, and the founder of a Facebook group on Indo-Pak friendship. The men with him were childhood friends and neighbours, all of them lived in Tilak Nagar, in a colony of Sikhs.

“Our Pakistani friends teased us a lot after Uri,” Jaljit said, showing his phone, on which the brief moments of sloganeering had been telecast via Facebook Live. “This is our way of teasing them back.”.

What had they said?

“They said ‘Go to the hell,” Jaljit Singh said, looking hurt. “So we are giving them the answer for that now.”

Before Uri, members of the Indo-Pak group had teased each other this way about cricketers, Dalbir Singh explained. The group was called Indo-Pak friendship, but finally, the Pakistanis on it could not exactly be called friends.

The after-party

Tajinder Bagga, who had been missing in action from his Twitter after inviting everyone to India Gate, was to be found on Facebook: he had posted seven photographs of the promised celebration, except it was far away from India Gate,

Six men stood around a flag, and there was no display of firecrackers anywhere to be seen.

Congratulations poured in below the photographs, as did comments from users who wished they’d been in Delhi to help Bagga/India celebrate. The comments section included two from Karthik Happali and Naveen Pal, two men who had been near the flag-bearing Sikhs just half an hour ago.

Pal wrote:

“We waited there for 45 mins , but no one was there , the spot of meeting was also not clear . And in the end when we saw them , in only 5 min started to collected flags and ended it

It was just a small formality to to take photos and post them on fb.

I feel very disappointed.” 

Karthik Happali, who had even tweeted to Bagga before he arrived at the venue, sounded more crestfallen: "We came to India gate Noone was Der."

Who had been there, though, was a hopeful-looking small man, dressed as Charlie Chaplin. Monu, a resident of Nagpur, had shown up at India Gate every evening for the last two years. He was always looking for a party, he said. On regular days, he earned Rs 500 posing for photographs. But days when large groups came to celebrate, he could make up to Rs two or three thousand.

In the Capital, it was business as usual.