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Congress cautious over India’s air strikes, will criticise BJP but won’t question govt

Congress leaders had asked for proof of the 2016 surgical strikes, which the BJP had used against it in the UP assembly elections.

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New Delhi: The Congress seems to have learnt its lessons from the post-Uri surgical strikes, and has thus decided to tread cautiously in its reactions to the two-day long India-Pakistan face-off.

The surgical strikes, conducted in September 2016 on terror camps across the Line of Control in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, had become an issue during the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. Congress leaders had questioned the evidence of the strikes, and the BJP went to town on it.

So, this time around, in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack, the Indian Air Force strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Pakistan’s Balakot and the Pakistani Air Force’s attempted retaliatory strikes in India, Congress sources say the party has taken a conscious decision not to question the government’s narrative. Instead, it will restrict itself to criticising the BJP’s attempt to politicise the strike.

“It is shameful that while India awaits the return of Wing Commander abhinandan, our Prime Time PM cannot stop campaigning even for a few minutes. We stand with our soldiers & will continue to question the Modi Govt on their apathy,” the party’s official handle tweeted Thursday.

The Congress, which has shared public platforms with West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee as part of the anti-BJP grouping of parties, will not go along with her demand that the government make details of the strike, such as the number of people killed and their identity, public.

Banerjee Thursday had said: “Some media is reporting 300 people died, we want to know the actual truth. Where did they drop the bomb? Was it dropped at the right target? International media is reporting that no such thing happened, that the bomb missed its target and no one died? So what is the truth?”

Also read: Rahul Gandhi leads opposition support for IAF after predawn air strikes in Pakistan

Make govt accountable

A senior Congress leader said the party will hold the government accountable for the lapses that led to the Pulwama terror attack, which killed 40 CRPF personnel, and for politicising the air strike, but will not directly ask for proof.

“We are definitely going to hold the BJP and the Prime Minister accountable for the lapses, as well as politicising the entire matter. But asking for proof is not the right way to go about it. We don’t doubt our armed forces,” the leader told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.

“We are going to show the people the true face of the BJP and the statements made by BJP leaders that the air strike will help them politically. It is a sensitive issue and with elections around the corner, the BJP will try to gain political mileage.”

The Congress Thursday also distanced itself from the remarks made by Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who batted for a dialogue between India and Pakistan.

“There is a time to act and there is a time to talk. Dialogue can only take place when the atmosphere is conducive for dialogue and the current atmosphere is not conducive for a dialogue,” former union minister Manish Tewari had said.

“If Mr Navjot Singh Sidhu has an opinion, that is his personal opinion and it is not the opinion of the Indian National Congress.”

Once bitten, twice shy

Days after the surgical strike in 2016, a number of Congress leaders such as Sanjay Nirupam had asked the BJP to show proof, though at that time too, there were a few who had said they had full faith in the Army.

On 4 October that year, Nirupam had called the surgical strikes “fake” and alleged that the BJP was trying to gain political mileage.

“Every Indian wants Surgical Strikes Against Pakistan but not a fake one to extract just political benefit by BJP. Politics over national interest,” Nirupam had tweeted.

Former finance minister P. Chidambaram had also said in an interview to CNN News 18: “UPA did PoK strikes too, but it is up to the present government to give proof of the surgical strikes. The much-hyped surgical strike on last Wednesday night was not the only time that Army had crossed the LoC to take punitive action.”

The statements made by the Congress were used by the BJP in a number of political rallies claiming that the Congress was trying to divide the nation.

Also read: After high of air strikes, PM Modi keeps a low profile as India-Pakistan tensions escalate


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