With the Pulwama terrorist attack and the Indian Air Force strikes inside Pakistan breaking the momentum of its campaign against the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Congress is back to the drawing board. But while the grand old party appears to be still cagey about the political fallout of the BJP’s campaign playing on nationalistic sentiments — remarks made by some Congress leaders have not helped either — it has slowly started hitting back.
There are also some indications that the party could reach out to the Samajwadi Party and BSP in Uttar Pradesh and rethink its decision not to align with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi in the changed scenario. “The whole narrative changes. We have to plan everything again, both campaign and other tactics. We have to re-calibrate everything,” a senior Congress leader told The Indian Express.
On February 13, a day before the Pulwama attack, Rahul Gandhi had said at the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting, “We are defeating the BJP in the daily news cycle and the Congress is now firmly entrenched in the mood and spirits of the people.” The Congress believed the Opposition had built up crucial momentum against Modi over issues like the Rafale fighter jet deal, the job crisis and farmer distress.
But, the Congress admits, that “domination” over the BJP in the news cycle has been broken with Pulwama. The challenge for the party now is to bring back the narrative to political and governance issues, on which it can pin down the government.
Meanwhile, it is trying to do a delicate balancing act over Pulwama and the air strikes to ensure that the BJP doesn’t have an open field in the media, by supporting the armed forces while questioning the politicisation of the entire episode by Modi and the BJP.
The Congress hence was quick to distance itself from senior leader Digvijaya Singh’s statement that India should give evidence of the damage caused by the air strikes in Pakistan, like the US government had done after Osama bin Laden’s killing. It was not seeking evidence, the Congress said.
However, on Monday, senior leader Kapil Sibal echoed Digvijaya, saying, “Modiji must answer as international media like The New York Times, The Washington Post, London-based Jane’s Information Group, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and Reuters, are reporting that there is no proof of militant losses at Balakot in Pakistan… You are guilty of politicising terror.”
The Opposition is not on the same page either. Sources said the Congress and NCP were not comfortable with opposition parties wanting to attack the government and PM on national security issues at a meeting on February 27. Leaders like Mamata Banerjee and N Chandrababu Naidu had argued that the Opposition should not be on the defensive, but the Congress felt it was not the right time to attack Modi, as did NCP chief Sharad Pawar.
That strategy has been refined. The Congress has indicated it will question the government hard on the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir, foreign policy manoeuvres with Pakistan and “politicisation” of the air strikes, without seeking evidence or doubting the damage caused by them.