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October 10, 2016, 3:06 PM IST Sriram Ramakrishnan
The hunters have become the hunted. In a span of just ten days, Indian politics has turned upside down proving once again that there is no substitute for smart realpolitik when it comes to changing public perception or mood.
The Opposition’s reaction to the cross-border surgical raids has been a revelation so far and shows how much the political game has changed on the ground. On Sunday, at the huge BSP rally in Lucknow Mayawati apparently tied herself up in knots over the cross border operation.
First, she praised it and then said it had been delayed. Then she criticised Modi for playing politics and warned her cadres not to be tempted by the BJP’s aggressive nationalistic campaigning. As if this was not enough, she warned that the borders of the country are not safe under Modi. The fact that the leader of an openly casteist regional party would devote time and space in her public speech to nationalism and cross border terrorism shows that the tremors from the midnight raid on Sept 29 has shaken up UP politics.
Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party heir apparent and Arvind Kejriwal of Aam Aadmi Party have either flip-flopped or indulged in similar semantic and rhetorical contortions to try and prevent BJP from capturing political capital out of the strike.
Kejriwal has gone from being a critic of India’s diplomatic outreach after the attacks to a strong opponent of Pakistan, to a strong critic of Rahul Gandhi’s style of attack on the raids. The yoga-style twists would have pleased Baba Ramdev but whether it will get him any electoral benefit is doubtful.
It did not take long for Rahul Gandhi to show his true colours. His visceral hatred for Narendra Modi is there for everybody to see in his public speeches and his 360 degree turn from supporting Modi and the strikes to attacking him for alleged ‘khoon ki dalali’ can only be attributed to Congress panic over groundswell of support for Modi and the BJP.
AK Antony’s assertion that Congress-led UPA also conducted similar raids and a story in the Hindu newspaper about a 2011 raid codenamed Operation Ginger lends credence to the belief that the Congress is now trying to explain away the Sept 29 raids as nothing but a continuation of strategy undertaken by the UPA government.
Never mind the former Director General Military Operations (DGMO) Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia’s explanation that the 2016 raids cannot be compared to any other raid due to its scale and complexity, the Congress leaders appear convinced that this is the best way to play the game.
They may be right but an inevitable question that emerges is this. If the Cong-led UPA government was constantly hitting terrorists across the LoC, why didn’t they advertise it? According to AK Antony, the then governmed conducted quite a few raids across the border between 2009 and 2014. There was one even in January 2014, six months before the general election which the Congress was sure to lose.
How come the Congress leadership never thought it fit to proclaim this achievement publicly? Any government that strikes militant camps across the border in retaliation for a terror strike deserves praise whether it is Congress or BJP.
Mr Anthony says that the Congress leadership avoided this publicity out of mature behaviour and the need to keep armed forces out of politics? Really? Are we to believe this? Prime minister Narendra Modi’s call to the BJP not to trumpet or play up the attacks also needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
He may not like it but he will not mind if BJP leaders across the country, especially in poll-bound UP, make it an election issue and woo voters. I am sure BJP workers and local leaders across the country are doing precisely that. Why should a party surrender a winning issue on the pretext that they are practising a higher standard of politics? Political parties fight elections to win and anything that helps them do that is fair game. This may offend some liberals but this is how politics is done.
The real reason behind Congress’ silence in those years is actually very different. Remember the government was headed by Dr Manmohan Singh. The clearance to the strikes would have come only from him, or the cabinet committee on security if it was involved.
The Congress would have loved to go to town but if only there had been a different leader at the helm. Do you seriously think the Congress would have remained silent if Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi had been prime minister? Fat chance.
The party and the government kept quiet because the credit for the strikes would have gone to Dr Manmohan Singh and not to Sonia or Rahul. Remember also, Operation Ginger was in 2011 just two years after a resounding reelection credited largely to Dr Manmohan Singh.
The Congress apparatchiks would not have liked that and crediting Dr Singh with a daring cross-border raid just a few years later would have tremendously boosted his popularity at the expense of Sonia and Rahul. There was also a problem in giving credit to Sonia. Remember she was not a part of the government and certainly not a member of the cabinet committee on security.
How can the government explain her involvement then? Wouldn’t the Opposition and media have jumped in to claim a security breach or claim extra constitutional role for someone outside the government?
The Congress now realises that it has to play two cards, the secular as well as the Hindutva/nationalist card if it has to win in 2019. The `Humne-bhi-kiya-cross-border-raid’ chant now comes from the realisation that it cannot let prime minister Modi take sole credit wounding Pakistan with an audacious cross-border strike.
It has to show that all that the Modi government is doing is similar to what the Congress has been doing all along. And that the Modi government is shamelessly taking credit while Congress had kept quiet like a mature party. This is the real reason behind Rahul Gandhi’s `khoon ki dalali’ remark and AK Antony’s claims