A war of words broke out between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress on Thursday over the issue of ‘surgical strikes’ and listing of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a UN-designated terrorist.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said Indian armed forces received a free hand to respond to external threats during the Congress-led UPA’s tenure. Singh termed it “shameful and unacceptable” that the BJP was attempting to gain electoral mileage from military operations.
The Congress, later, came out with a list of six anti-terror surgical strikes carried out during the UPA rule but it never tried to take political advantage from military operations — a claim which was dubbed “fraudulent and farcical” by the BJP.
Earlier in the day, senior BJP leader and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during a press conference said Azhar being listed as a global terrorist was a great diplomatic victory for India and that Opposition parties were reluctant to celebrate the achievement because they feel they may have to pay a political price for it.
The UN Sanctions Committee on Wednesday had designated Pakistan-based Azhar a global terrorist after China lifted its hold on a proposal to ban him. Jaitley said the Narendra Modi government succeeded in an attempt the country has been making for the last 10 years, “but then they (Opposition) says ‘this is trivial, what is big in it’.”
“If India wins, Indians win, but there are friends in opposition who are not celebrating it as they may have to pay a political price for it,” Jaitley said. “Terrorism shall not be tolerated and this declaration from the UN is noteworthy. It is the result of persistent measures taken by the external affairs ministry, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” said Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who was also present in the press meeting.
Later in the day, the Congress said the UPA government carried out six surgical strikes — Bhattal sector in Poonch (June 19, 2008); Sharda sector, across Neelam River Valley, in Kel (August 30-September 1, 2011); Sawan Patra checkpost (January 6, 2013); Nazapir sector (July 27-28, 2013); Neelam Valley (August 6, 2013); and one on December 23, 2013.
Congress spokespersons Rajeev Shukla and Ragini Nayak also listed two surgical strikes carried out under the previous BJP-led NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. These were Nadala Enclave, across the Neelam River (January 21, 2000) and Baroh sector in Poonch (September 18, 2003).
However, the BJP rejected the Congress’ claim of six surgical strikes during the UPA tenure. “It is a farcical and fraudulent claim. We have the greatest of respect for our armed forces. Our forces were capable of carrying out surgical strikes across the LoC, inside Pakistan, but they were not allowed to do so when the UPA was in power,” BJP national spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said in another press conference.
On the other hand, Jaitley, who was responding to the comments made by Singh in an interview, said the UPA government did not act against terrorists after the Mumbai terror attack in 2008 even as security forces were ready to target them. The UPA government, in fact, released 25 terrorists as a "goodwill gesture" and one of them was later involved in the Pathankot terror attack, he said.
But Nayak’s retort was: "When the former prime minister and (a former) army chief say earlier also surgical strikes have taken place and the FM says they were invisible strikes then he is raising questions not just on Vajpayeeji and Manmohan Singhji, but is also casting aspersions on the Army and the remarks made by the army chiefs at that time."
Jaitley also rejected the Congress' stand that it was disappointed that the UN's decision did not make any reference to the Pulwama terror attack and Azhar's role in terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. The UN's listing and decision are not a "biodata" of Azhar, and they don't have to give details of his each and every activity, the FM said. The core issue is that Azhar has been declared an international terrorist and he and his country will have to bear the consequences, Jaitley said.
BSP chief Mayawati said: "During its previous stint, the BJP not only took out Masood Azhar (of jail) but also left him abroad and now, they are trying to get votes in his name which is condemnable.”