Can surgical strikes euphoria clinch UP poll victory for BJP?

Sanjaya

Nikita Khrushchev, the strong man of the Soviet Union who succeeded the strongest man, dictator, modernizer of the republic, Stalin, once quipped that, “a politician is one who promises to build a bridge on a river which is not there”. What would have been his comment when a prime minister tries to capitalize on the victory in a war that was not fought?

The reference is, of course, to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has been projecting himself as a strongman who replied to Pakistan in a befitting manner for sending terrorists across the border to attack a military outpost at Uri in Kashmir Valley.

The PM, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh have been trying to take full advantage of surgical strikes on the launch pads of terrorists in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Opposition leaders have been expressing doubts about the strikes since no material evidence was available. The Army has decided against producing evidence that it thinks would help the enemy. Even though there are mischievous comments by opposition leaders the common man does believe that the Indian commandos gave a tit-for-tat reply to Pakistan by carrying out surgical strikes with great precision without losing a single soldier. However, the nagging doubts continue to bother.

The survey conducted by India Today-Axis Opinion Poll in Uttar Pradesh to gauze the voters’ mood in the forthcoming Assembly elections, indicated that the BJP is far ahead of the BSP and the incumbent SP, thanks to the surgical strikes which were lauded by more than 90 percent of the respondents. Modi’s eloquence in Lucknow on the eve of Dasara and Parrikar’s oration in Mumbai were, no doubt, aimed at influencing the public opinion and scoring a point or two over the opposition parties.

If you take their statements coupled with the assertion by Pakistan High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, in his interview with Karan Thapar of India Today channel, that there were no surgical strikes and if there were really made, Pakistan would have retaliated.  You can appreciate the definition given by Krushchev.                        

There is nothing wrong with the party in power taking advantage of a victory in a war. In 1965, there was virtually no victory either for India or Pakistan. It was a sort of stalemate until the Soviet Union intervened when India was about to gain upper hand. Hence the results in the elections held two years later in 1967 propped up the first anti-Congress governments in North India and Tamil Nadu.

But in 1971 liberation of Bangladesh, the war was actually fought. The campaign that was started by aiding Mukti Bahini in March 1971 ended on 16th December 1971 with General Niazi surrendering in Dhaka with 90,000 Pakistani troops to General JS Aurora of Indian Army.

There was photographic evidence and no room to doubt the Indian claim. BJP (then Jan Sangh) leader Atal Behari Vajpayee reportedly called Indira a Durga. Indira Gandhi took the credit, though she shared it with Field Marshal Manekshaw, for the resounding victory and went on to win the elections for a number of State assemblies. Even during the campaign for the 5th Lok Sabha elections, the atmosphere was surcharged. The problem of lakhs of refugees from East Pakistan was being tackled efficiently by Indira Gandhi. She also went to the polls with a powerful slogan, Garibi Hatao, in the election campaign. The war atmosphere in the air and the slogan gave her two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha with the Congress party led by Indira winning 362 out of the 520 elected seats. This victory has conclusively sidelined the Congress (O) led by S Nijalingappa.

Then came the Kargil episode in 1999. Though the NDA government led by Vajpayee was caught napping at the beginning thinking that Pak Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was for friendship with India, the Indian Army could gain control and threw the Pak invaders out of Kargil heights. That gave the BJP at the national level and the TDP (which was a partner in NDA) in AP a decisive victory. So, the ruling parties which took risky decisions during war times would stand to gain electorally in a democracy. There is nothing wrong in it.

The problem confronting the Modi government is that it is not able to prove to the cynical leaders of the opposition parties and to the not so gullible among the common people that the surgical strikes did take place. Except the statement by Gen Ranbir Singh, Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), there is no corroborative evidence. If the army allowed the government to produce a shred of evidence the loose talk in political circles would have been nipped in the bud. The lack of evidence is being balanced by the cooperative media and the series of bombastic statements by BJP stalwarts. It is to be seen if the euphoria created, rightly or wrongly, by the surgical strikes would help the BJP win UP elections proving the India Today’s survey results right.

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