Congress, BJP spar over surgical strikes

New Delhi, (IANS) The surfacing of a video on the 2016 surgical strikes across the Line of Control into Pakistan triggered a political row on Thursday with the Congress accusing the Modi government of drawing political mileage from the army’s achievement while the BJP hit back saying raising questions breaks the spirit of the armed forces and strengthens the morale of terrorists.

“Let the ruling dispensation remember that the blood and sacrifice of our brave soldiers cannot become a political vote garnering tool for the Modi Government and the BJP,” Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala told reporters here at a press conference, a day after video footage of the strikes surfaced in the media.

Surjewala told reporters that BJP President Amit Shah had “dishonoured” the 70-year-long history of bravery and sacrifice of the armed forces by making a “disgraceful statement” on October 7, 2016 that the “Indian Army had crossed the LoC for the first time in 68 years”.

Stressing that Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his predecessor Sonia Gandhi supported the armed forces and the government in the 2016 action, Surjewala said the Army had conducted strategic surgical strikes “with utmost precision and effective penetration” at different times in the last two decades.

He listed eight “surgical strikes” conducted prior to 2016.

“We are proud that our forces successfully conducted multiple surgical strikes over the last two decades, particularly post 2000 — January 21, 2000 (Nadala Enclave, across Neelam river); September 18, 2003 (Baroh Sector, Poonch); June 19, 2008 (Bhattal Sector, Poonch); August 30 to September 1, 2011 (Sharda Sector, across Neelam river Valley in Kel); January 6, 2013 (Sawan Patra Checkpost); July 27 to 28, 2013 (Nazapir Sector); August 6, 2013 (Neelam Valley); January 14, 2014; September 28 to 29, 2016.”

He said the Modi government sought credit for the sacrifices of the soldiers but had “utterly failed” to provide the direction, vision and policy for dealing with Pakistan and checkmating Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

“Is Modi Government endangering our security infrastructure? Is Modi government guilty of putting the life of our soldiers in danger? Is Modi government using our ‘soldiers’ as ‘political fodder’ – using their sacrifice for vote garnering?,” he said seeking a response from the government.

“No wonder the apathy and incapacity of the Modi government has resulted in the sacrifice of 146 soldiers, more than 1,600 ceasefire violations by Pakistan and 79 terrorist attacks post September 2016,” Surjewala said.

The BJP was quick to respond to the charges.

“The Congress stand is going to gladden the hearts of terrorists and their patrons in Pakistan,” senior BJP leader and Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters.

“It is also going to give a big campaign handle to the Pakistan establishment that its questioning of the authenticity of surgical strikes has been reinforced by the Congress,” he added.

Prasad also said that the opposition party had become so desperate after electoral reverses that it was now aiming at the Indian Army’s morale.

“The remarks of Congress leaders will benefit Pakistan and terrorists. The way Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) reacted to Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s statement will get a certificate for the Congress from LeT or some other terrorist organisation soon,” the BJP leader said.

Responding to the Congress’ charge that the video of surgical strikes was released to politicise the issue, Prasad said no elections were around the corner at present.

“The video was not released during the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and even Karnataka. Today, there is no election,” he said.

“Is demoralising the Army the only motive of the Congress? We should rise above politics,” he said.

Goa Chief Minister and former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar also reacted to the question raised by Congress.

Parrikar, who held the Defence portfolio when the surgical strikes took place on September 29, 2016, said footage which has been broadcast by national news channels was only a fraction of the actual evidence of the strikes.

“Ultimately, the exercise has been carried out by armed forces and the credit goes to the armed forces. But you cannot deny credit to the political leadership which took the strong decision,” Parrikar said.

“It was an extensive operation which was carried out after extensive planning and preparation. It could only happen, I think, because the leadership of the Prime Minister was very crucial… The Prime Minister supported the decision right from day one.

“For me, while taking a decision, of course the Prime Minister’s support was there, was also if this escalates… If this goes out beyond the intended limited operation and if there is retaliation, then what? We had to prepare ourselves for any eventuality. Our planning does not only talk about the small operation, but detailing about complete fall-out in case something goes wrong. That was the important part for me,” he added.

Joining the row, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said that the surgical strikes have changed nothing on the ground.

Omar said on his Twitter handle: “There is nothing to be gained from debating whether the #SurgicalStrikes took place. What we should be objectively discussing is what the strikes changed on the ground”.

Medaram Jathara

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