Dear Parrikar, was surgical strike for country or UP elections?
- Interestingly, the Defence minister seems to think that by felicitating him, BJP was honouring the Army.
- The strike seems to is to gather momentum for the coming state elections.
By now, even the average citizen in India, with no initiation, has figured out what this surgery is about; taking an enemy by surprise and inflicting losses with minimum collateral.
The idea is to contain a situation with a counter offensive but stops short of letting either side step on the escalation ladder.
However, a hyper-nationalist media has been telling us all the details and analysing it ad nausea and politicians are chanting it like a mantra.
The opposition, caught in a bind, is forced to back the government because it involves the army thus the most august of holy cows. Except of course, the whole idea of such a strike is getting defeated. Or is it?
Former Indian Army generals and now the former National Security Advisor (NSA), Shiv Shankar Menon, who was India's High Commissioner to Pakistan and India's Foreign Secretary, have been candid in stating that this is not the first "surgical strike".
Operations across the Line of Control (LoC) were not publicised in the past, "because they were not aimed at domestic constituencies," said Menon to The Hindu. He also added that the term, "surgical strike" is confusing since this is a Cold War-era term meant specifically taking out the leadership (unless India was aiming that).
However, Parrikar on Wednesday denied knowledge of any such operations in the past. People involved in covert operations would tell us that the primary target of these actions is usually to cut down infiltrations and ceasefire violations. This time round, obviously the goal is different.
The strike is to gather momentum for a domestic audience, and that is possibly the coming state elections.
Posters have already come up in Uttar Pradesh, and the Defence Minister has started making the rounds. BJP sources say, following the strikes, Parrikar is expected to be projected as a star campaigner for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections next year.
Last week Parrikar was in Agra and Lucknow, where the BJP organised felicitation of Defence Minister's successful "surgical strike" across the border.
BJP leaders used the ceremony to issue threats to Pakistan, asking it to "mend its ways" or be prepared for the "Tricolour in Islamabad. BJP MLA Keshav Mehra launched a nuclear offensive: "Pakistan baar baar atom bomb ki dhamki deta hai, agar humne atom bomb chala diya toh uska bhugol se naamo nishan mit jayega" (Pakistan repeatedly threatens us of an atom bomb. If India strikes, entire Pakistan will be wiped off.)
BJP's OBC Morcha president S P Singh Baghel was already in election mode:"Tumne pehle chooma, phir chata, phir kaata. Tumse achche to kutte hain jo jise chaatete hain use kaatete nahin." (You first kissed, licked, then bit. Even dogs are better than you at least they don't bite the one they lick.)
Ashwini Vashisth, a BJP Agra leader, claimed at least 200 were killed in the surgical strikes carried out by the Indian army.
Interestingly, the Defence Minister thought that by felicitating him, BJP was actually honouring the Army.
To recall, this felicitation and threats came days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on his ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders not to indulge in "chest thumping" over the Indian Army's surgical strikes. Modi infact refrained from mentioning it in his Lucknow Dussehra address.
Manohar Parrikar wouldn't give up. On Wednesday, he appeared again and not once but twice in the course of a day to first give the PM "major share" of credit for the "surgical strike". Parrikar was speaking at the MET 2016 (Materials Engineering Technology) conference in Mumbai when he made the comment.
I will only share the credit, major share goes to PM. This should settle the nerves of many people: Defence Minister on #SurgicalStrike— ANI (@ANI_news) October 12, 2016
Parrikar's remarks were immediately criticised by opposition parties. So in his second appearance, he attributed the credit to "the nation" and the army.
The idea of appeasing the domestic constituency is obviously being fulfilled and the controversy around the details of the strike is fuelling the hyper-nationalist campaign for the party. One will have to wait and see whether the strikes would really inflict "heavy casualties" in the opposition camp.
Kishalay Bhattacharjee is a senior journalist and author. His most recent book is Blood on my Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters (Harper Collins 2015). The views expressed here are his own.