By the time clear satellite images were made available to the public, the Pakistanis had smartly finished reconstructing the roof over the bombed seminary at Balakot and attempted to cover up the destruction, officials say. Satellite photos could not be taken on the night of the aerial strikes because of the darkness. The next day the cloud cover prevented a satellite image being shot. On the third day, the Indian authorities managed to get a satellite picture revealing that the building had been damaged, particularly the roof, but the image was hazy. Instead of releasing this photograph immediately, it was simply put out on Twitter in the hope that a better shot would be available later. When commercial satellite photographs were finally taken more than a week later, the site did not look as ravaged as the first satellite image, thanks to Pakistan’s swift restoration efforts, officials believe. But even in the later photos the blackened areas to the north of the building indicated significant damage.
Many wonder how the number of Pakistani casualties at Balakot was estimated at 250. The figure was first put out on Twitter and Facebook by those who had reportedly been fed by Indian Army intelligence sources in Kashmir. It was picked up by two TV channels. Adding to the confusion was Pakistan’s initial claim that two Indian pilots and two aircraft were downed. Since India had only one missing pilot and aircraft, several Internet sites put out the theory that one pilot was actually a Pakistani who had been lynched by his own countrymen in PoK, assuming he was Indian. But the name of the dead pilot, supposedly the son of a former Pakistani Air Marshal, turned out to be fake.
Divided we fall
After Balakot, there have been renewed efforts to avoid divisions in the Opposition ranks. Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar, the trusted US-based family friend of the Gandhis, Sam Pitroda, Muslim leaders from Uttar Pradesh and others have all voiced their concern. The problematic states where opposition parties are likely to cut into each other’s vote share and help the BJP are: Delhi, Haryana and UP. In Delhi and Haryana, the local Congress leaders are against an alliance with AAP. In UP, the Congress is still hoping for a last-minute compromise with the BSP-SP alliance, which is feeling the heat because the Congress has emerged as a third force. Several BSP and SP potential Lok Sabha candidates, who lost the nomination because the partner was allotted the constituency, have joined the Congress in the hope of a ticket. The defectors to the Congress include former SP MP Rakesh Sachan from Fatehpur Sikri, former BSP MP from Sitapur Kaisar Jahan, and former BSP MP Kunwar Chand Vakil, who hopes to get the Congress ticket from Agra. The hurdle in the effort to persuade the SP and BSP to allot more seats to the Congress in UP is Mayawati’s demand for seats in several other states as compensation.
Rahul Gandhi is annoyed that the BJP’s publicity campaign has already got off the ground while the Congress has yet to finalise a firm for its advertising. The BJP has gone for the same well-known publicity and advertising firms as it had done in 2014, and its campaign slogan ‘Namumkin ab Mumkin Hai (the impossible is now possible)’ appears in a slate of recent government ads. The delay is reportedly because two factions, one led by Anand Sharma, who heads the Congress’s publicity committee for the Lok Sabha elections, and the other by Jairam Ramesh, who is the coordinator of the party’s core group, are working at cross-purposes. One side has even accused the other of inviting firms for presentation of their powerpoint proposals for shortlisting without calling all the committee members. Another grouse is that a little-known firm has been shortlisted.
The Congress is yet to announce nominations for Lok Sabha elections in Madhya Pradesh, but the scions of three political dynasties have been given the go-ahead to start campaigning from their respective family seats. MP Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s son Nakul, who till now has stayed in the background, hopes to contest from Chhindwara, the parliamentary seat which his father won nine times. Arjun Singh’s son Ajay Singh may have lost the election last time but is all set to contest from Satna. Arun Yadav, former PCC chief and the son of former minister Subhash Yadav, will stand from Khandwa.