Oppn hails airstrikes but is edgy as election is around the corner

NEW DELHI: A united opposition hailed the IAF for hitting back post Pulwama even as it remained conscious of the turning narrative on the Lok Sabha election eve.

Oppn hails airstrikes but is edgy as election is around the corner

Rahul Gandhi. PTI file

rchopra@tribunemail.com

Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, February 27

Barring the PDP which termed the Indian Air Force strikes on Pakistan and PoK-based terror camps “unnecessary retaliation”, a united opposition hailed the IAF for hitting back post Pulwama even as it remained conscious of the turning narrative on the Lok Sabha election eve.

After offering early salutations to the forces, opposition veterans pledged support to the government in its anti-terror operations after they were briefed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on the strikes.

Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad spoke for the opposition saying, “We support the security forces in all their endeavours to take on enemies of the nation. Today’s operation was very clean, no civilians were harmed and a terrorist camp was destroyed.”

From Congress president Rahul Gandhi who “saluted the IAF pilots” and NC’s Omar Abdullah who called the strike in Khyber Pakhtunakhwa’s Balakot “significant” to SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, BSP supremo Mayawati, and RJD’s Tejaswi Yadav, all opposition titans backed the IAF as the news of strikes spread.

Significantly, most sufficed to congratulate the pilots, reserving their verdicts on the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the political call to give the Forces a free hand.

As new Whatsapp forwards with “Chowkidaar sher hai” taglines appeared in social media spaces, Mayawati took a swipe at the PM for giving a free hand to the Forces a bit too late and the CPM warned against jingoism.

“IAF strike destroying terrorist camps across LoC is welcome action. Salute and respect to their bravery. PM Modi gave free hand to Army only after Pulwama attack. Had it been earlier Pathankot, Uri & Pulwama like tragedy and loss of precious lives of jawans could have been averted,” Mayawati said as the opposition grappled with the potential turn of public sentiment to the BJP’s advantage as evidenced in the response PM Modi’s Churu rally got.

CPM’s general secretary Sitaram Yechury while calling the IAF’s effective operation “heartening” said, “We have told the government there must be no attempt at fanning jingoism.”

The Congress remained silent on the political consequences of air strikes with leaders privately admitting that in the given situation it would be difficult for the opposition to build an anti-Modi narrative. “The sentiment is sure to turn to PM’s advantage,” a Congress leader said.

Former Law Minister and Congress veteran Ashwani Kumar hailed India’s response as “befitting” saying “care has been taken to ensure that the use of force is proportionate and deployed only against terrorist camps operating from Pakistan”.

He said as per international practice, India’s pre-emptive air strikes could not be treated as an act of aggression, adding, “Punjab and Kashmir which have traditionally borne the brunt of Pakistan’s aggression against India will once again rise to checkmate Pakistani aggression, if any. While military hostilities between nations must always be the last option, we know from history that lasting peace is the dividend of power. The nation salutes the courage of our forces and stands united when summoned to the flag.”

That said, the opposition remained anxious about the political fallout of the air strikes and any future move the government might make.

Privately, opposition leaders objected to Modi saying at a Rajasthan poll rally that the “the nation is in safe hands”.

The non-BJP camp was also found thinking of its next strategy with the IAF strikes coming on the eve of the opposition meet called to discuss a common minimum programme against the BJP.

“At the time of Indo-Pakistan tension, weaving an anti-PM narrative will be a challenge. Let’s see what happens,” an opposition veteran said as the BJP geared to make the PM’s muscular response a poll issue.

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