Probably because he is a former Army Chief, Gen. V.K. Singh (Retd), now a Union minister, understands better the importance of national unity when relations with Pakistan are strained to the point of military hostility. This is why he ticked off B.S. Yeddyruppa, a former Karnataka chief minister, on whom rests the saffron party’s hopes of reclaiming power in the state. The minister of state for external affairs responded sharply to Mr Yeddyurappa’s public observation that the IAF’s Balakot airstrike and the return by Pakistan of Wing Commander Abhinandan Vartaman would help the BJP win 22 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karataka.
A time of military tension is not for playing partisan politics, the retired Army Chief reminded the top-flight politician. He also underlined the need for emotional and political unity. But it seems Gen. Singh’s viewpoint has few takers at the top tiers of the ruling party and government. BJP president Amit Shah had said on Saturday that the coming Lok Sabha election was going to be about how to give Pakistan a fitting reply. After Mr Yeddyurappa’s statement, this appears to be the most flagrant display of partisanship.
From the very start of the recent cycle of hostility with Pakistan, as various elements of the government at top levels sought to hog the credit for what the Air Force had done, 21 Opposition parties met to criticise the “blatant politicisation” of the airstrike by ruling party politicians.
This was attacked by two Cabinet ministers — Prakash Javedkar and Arun Jaitley. The former said the observations of the BJP’s opponents were being picked up by Pakistani politicians to embarrass India. The latter spoke of the Opposition’s statement being “ill-advised”. In effect, both were asking Opposition parties to join the jingoistic chorus which has been unleashed by the television news channels — apparently at the government’s goading.
The self-congratulation following the Balakot strike flowed from the figure put out in the news stream that around 300 Jaish-e-Mohammed top guns, trainers and recruits had been killed in the IAF attack. This figure was not cooked up by journalists, but obviously fed to them in a calculated act of circulating propaganda to squeeze out political benefit from the military action.
However, answering pointed questions last week, Air Vice-Marshal R.G.K. Kapoor, the assistant chief of air staff, who briefed the media as a part of a tri-services group, was categorical that information on fatalities at Balakot was yet to be ascertained. All details of the impact of this IAF action appear murky, with respected Western news platforms suggesting no serious damage had been done at the Balakot facility of JeM. Contrary claims also exist. It might be best if the government released “before and after” satellite imagery for the sake of an informed public discussion.