After Uri and before the surgical strikes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had seemed to caution the peoples of India and Pakistan against turning on each other — their common enemy, he had reminded them from a BJP conclave in Kozhikode, was poverty and illiteracy, unemployment and infant and maternal mortality. A few days later, the surgical strikes followed and in their immediate aftermath, important distinctions were still being made.
The strikes, it was reiterated, were “surgical”, targeted specifically at terror infrastructure, implying they were not against Pakistan’s people. Having carried them out, the NDA government appeared restrained and the Opposition, across the political spectrum, lent it its support. Of course, that show of unity was not going to last, and questions were bound to break through — as they have. In a lively democracy, that the government should be asked questions on issues of war and peace is not a problem and must not be seen to be so. It is welcome. Yet there is a problem here and it is this: In the past few days, there is a terrible blunting and collapse of vital distinctions. And just as the ruling regime led the way in setting a tone of sobriety earlier, it must accept the larger share of the blame for the current unravelling.
On Friday, a day after Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi had, in a particularly coarse and graceless choice of words, accused the PM of hiding behind the “blood” of jawans and of “dalali”or politically cashing in on their sacrifice, BJP president Amit Shah responded to the Congress’s questions and Rahul’s criticism by waving the flag in their face. To ask any questions about the surgical strikes, suggested Shah, was to demoralise the Indian army and to incur the wrath of the Indian people. It was a rhetorical and political stratagem that effectively sought to draw a new line within — between the government, the army and the people on one side and the Congress-AAP-opposition on the other. Shah went further. The Congress, he said, was aligning itself not with “janata ka utsah”, the people’s enthusiasm, and “sena ka manobal”, the resolve of the army, but with “Pakistan ki nirasha”, the disappointment of Pakistan. Let Rahul Gandhi worry about Pakistan’s stability, he retorted to a question. On Thursday, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had presided over the stage in Agra and Lucknow where senior BJP functionaries, including the state BJP president, hurled threats of flying the “tricolour in Islamabad” and of “hitting them with an atom bomb”.
It does not behove the president of India’s ruling party to deflect questions by insinuating that the country’s main opposition party is unpatriotic. It goes against the spirit and substance of the prime minister’s Kozhikode message when his senior colleagues paint the current situation as a confrontation between all of India and all of Pakistan. As the country heads into a fractious poll season, both parties need to be careful about the faultlines they open up. To suggest there is an enemy within hurts the national interest.