HOURS after the Army announced surgical strikes in PoK on September 29, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said that the party “stands with the government in its actions to protect our country’s security” and that the strikes were a “strong message” to Pakistan.
Over the last 48 hours, however, the party has departed from that position.
Its leaders scrambled Tuesday to respond to what they called the BJP’s “myopic” politics of triumphalism: they asked the government for “substantive proof” of the strikes and went on to say that the UPA had struck Pakistan, too. Different party leaders mentioned different years.
Quoting a report, “Indian lies exposed all over the world,” in Pak newspaper The News, AICC General Secretary Digvijaya Singh asked the government to promptly “release video footage” of the strikes and told Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval that “our credibility is at stake.”
Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam joined in saying that “every Indian wants surgical strikes against Pakistan but not a fake one to extract just political benefit by BJP.”
Nirupam toned down his statement after the high command is said to have expressed displeasure. Talking to The Indian Express later, Nirupam said: “The Congress fully backed the surgical strikes… we were with the Government. But there have been two developments. First, the BJP politicized the issue to address its domestic audience. Secondly, along with Pakistan, international agencies and media started raising questions. In such a situation, we will have to give an answer to Pakistan, which has raised questions…If you don’t reply, it will be considered as fake.”
Nirupam disagreed with Singh saying he didn’t want all the video footage to be released. “That will not be not in the interest of national security…at the same time, you must provide some substantive proof to expose and reply to Pak propaganda which is becoming dominant…They are the ones who had demanded 10 heads for one Indian head…Where are the heads?”
Hours later, Congress communication department chief Randeep Surjewala summoned a press conference to try and clear the air. But the confusion only deepened.
Surjewala said the “Congress party does not agree with the statement made by Sanjay Nirupam. We have taken serious note of the same.” He then effectively contradicted himself by echoing what Nirupam had said: “(The) Government, however, needs to call the Pakistani bluff and false propaganda by using all information, evidence and instruments at the disposal of Indian state.”
Surjewala asked the government to “stop politicising” the surgical strikes and then, ironically, added that Thursday’s was “neither the first nor will it be the last surgical strike” conducted by the armed forces.
He went on to give out three dates from UPA II on which the Army had conducted similar strikes, September 1, 2011; July 28, 2013 and January 1, 2014, when he said Indian forces had given “a befitting reply to the enemy.”
Even as he revealed these dates, he talked about the UPA’s “maturity” and “wisdom” that, “in the interest of national security” it had chosen not to make a “loud claim”.
Former Lok Sabha MP Sandeep Dikshit, meanwhile, said the Congress never backed the government.
Talking to The Indian Express, he said “We are not supporting the Government, we are supporting the defence forces…There is a substantial difference between supporting the government and supporting the Army. I don’t think anybody in the party is saying that they are supporting the Government…I don’t think that is correct because the Government has failed in its policy both towards Pakistan and towards Kashmir.”
Surjewala’s revelation of the dates came after former Finance Minister P Chidambaram said that India had conducted a strike in 2013 and that the UPA government chose not to go public “in keeping with its policy of strategic restraint”. Senior leader Anand Sharma went a step further saying the Army had taken action in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013 but the then government chose not to take “political ownership” for those actions.
Dikshit wanted the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Cabinet Committee on Security members to tell the country that “what is happening today is something that India has been doing all along.” He said the UPA leadership did not publicise those actions because of “some out-dated sense of decency and national interest” and the UPA leadership should make amends now because “it is important for the dignity and honour of the Congress because we are called cowards, ineffective and soft on Pakistan.”
AICC General Secretary Gurudas Kamat, meanwhile, chose to settle old scores. “Congress President Sonia Gandhi and VP Rahul Gandhi had complimented the Indian Army and the government for surgical strikes against Pakistan. No one else in Congress should abuse their positions to embarrass the party and the country,” he said. The rivalry between Kamat, a Mumbai Congress strongman, and Nirupam is well-known.