WITH the February 14 Pulwama attack and the series of incidents in its aftermath bringing national security to the centre of political discourse, the BJP is going back to the drawing board to ensure that the “diplomacy gains” made by the government are a part of the narrative for the Lok Sabha elections.
Sources in the party say BJP leaders believe national security is an issue that has the potential to paper over differences of caste, religion and class among voters, and blunt the Opposition’s attack on the government for its alleged failures on other fronts. They also believe the issue of national security can replace the development agenda that had worked well for Narendra Modi in 2014.
Party leaders say their assessment of the current political situation is that the government’s handling of the situation post-Pulwama has got the BJP some momentum among rural voters, but the party wants its talking heads to communicate to urban voters some of its achievements. Among these:
‘Pakistan threat dismissed’: With its decision to strike inside Pakistan, India has “called Pakistan’s nuclear threat bluff”, say BJP leaders. “It was this nuclear-power status that had made India hesitant in taking strong action against Pakistan even after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack because the international community always expected India to be mature and patient. But this February 26 pre-emptive strike has dismissed that threat,” said a party office-bearer.
‘Support from world leaders’: BJP leaders say they want to talk about how the government could get other countries, especially the US, to rally behind India, and how the international community had stood by India’s right to retaliate despite Islamabad’s attempts to project the air strikes as “an act of aggression”. These are the countries, party leaders point out, that imposed sanctions after India’s nuclear test in Pokhran during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure. The party also wants to send out the message that it could get Pakistan to “rein in terrorist activities on its soil” and how China signed off on a UNSC resolution condemning the Jaish-e-Mohammad. The party wants its spokespersons to keep talking about these diplomatic efforts, making sure that they credit External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj too.
Invitation to Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC): India was invited to the OIC meeting, considered “Pakistan’s playground” for long, for the first time since 1969.
‘Exposing Pak’: The party wants to talk about how it has “foiled Pakistan’s attempts” to project itself as a “victim of terror”, instead exposing it as an “incubator of terror”. They point to how the government took a number of symbolic measures after the Pulwama attack, including the withdrawal of the Most Favoured Nation status and the use of coercive diplomacy, to create an impression that strong action has been taken against Pakistan. This, according to a senior party leader, is in line with the party’s strategy to project Modi as “a strong, decisive and daring administrator.”
Bringing back Abhinandan: The BJP wants to tell its voters that it was Narendra Modi’s efforts that brought back the IAF pilot two days after he was captured by Pakistan. A party leader claimed Modi had “refused to speak to his Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan when he called” as he wanted Khan to announce Abhinandan’s release first. On Friday, speaking at a book release function, Union minister Smriti Irani said that the country can be happy that the “aggressive efforts of a swayamsevak have brought back India’s son in 48 hours”.
Despite criticism from the Opposition which has been accusing the BJP of “cashing in on the sacrifice of the soldiers”, there have been consistent attempts by the BJP to buttress its nationalist credentials — its leaders, right from Union ministers to booth workers, were asked to be present at the funeral of the CRPF men who were killed in Pulwama; workers were directed to organise programmes to pay tributes to the slain soldiers; and all public rallies had in the backdrop photos of these soldiers.
The Prime Minister and his Cabinet have also made it a point to highlight the steps taken by the government post-Pulwama.
On February 26, hours after the Indian Air Force conducted an air strike inside Pakistan, addressing a public rally in Churu, Rajasthan, Prime Minister Modi declared that “the country is in safe hands”.
A day later, BJP president Amit Shah cited the pre-emptive strike to make a strong pitch for a second term for Modi, claiming “no other leader in the world has such zero tolerance for terrorism”. Later, addressing a party programme in Ghazipur, hours after Pakistan retaliated by targeting Indian military installations, Shah also asked the voters to decide who, whether Modi or the gathbandhan, can keep the country safe, signalling that his party would paint itself as the most aggressive anti-Pakistan party among its support base in the coming days.
Pakistan as poll pitch
References to the neigbouring country have featured in the BJP’s campaign rhetoric since 2014. Some instances:
Raxaul, October 29, 2015
Bihar Assembly elections
Speaking in Raxaul, in Bihar’s East Champaran district, BJP president Amit Shah said: “If BJP loses Bihar elections even by chance, though victory or defeat will happen in Patna, firecrackers will be burst in Pakistan.” He appealed to people to ensure the BJP’s victory “so that disappointment descends on Pakistan”. A day later, he defended his remark and said he had not named any community, and was referring to “anti-national forces”.
Palanpur, December 10, 2017
Gujarat Assembly elections
While addressing a rally, PM Modi alleged that Pakistan was interfering in the Gujarat polls. He quoted “media reports” to say top leaders of the Congress had met leaders from Pakistan at Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s residence. “(The meeting) was attended by Pakistan’s high commissioner, Pakistan’s former foreign minister, India’s former vice-president and former prime minister Manmohan Singh,” Modi said, a day before Aiyar waded into a controversy terming Modi “neech”.
Modi later tweeted: “The same Mani Shankar Aiyar, who insulted Gujarat, held secret meetings with Pakistan High Commissioner… Why are people who previously held high posts in military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan writing that we should help make Ahmed Patel the CM?”
October 5, 2016
UP state elections
Days after the surgical strikes against Pakistan following the Uri terror attack, with BJP in campaign mode for the UP polls, then BJP state chief Keshav Prasad Maurya told The Hindu: “I have requested the honourable PM to grace us with his presence on Vijayadashami… The government is deserving of all accolades for responding strongly to threats by Pakistan.”
May 7, 2018
Campaigning for the May 31, 2018, bypoll, BJP leader Manoj Kashyap asked voters to ensure victory for Mriganka Singh, the BJP candidate. “You will cry if she loses while there will be Diwali in Pakistan, J&K and in anti-Modi camps,’’ he was purportedly heard saying in a video while addressing workers in Kairana. He also reportedly said: “When our leader goes to the US, the American president hugs him… But when Pakistan’s PM goes there, he is frisked…”