Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh on a visit near India-Pakistan border in Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan on October 7, 2016 | Image: Twitter

Rajnath Singh will be hailed as a tough leader in media after the success of a major internal security operation in Jammu and Kashmir to boost his standing ahead of Uttar Pradesh polls, said BJP members in June

“BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has let down the people. Instead of solving their problems, the party is indulging in petty politics of dividing various segments of the society, not only to conceal its own failures, but with an eye on the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh elections,” senior leader of National Conference – the principal opposition party in Indian-administered Kashmir – said on July 11. BJP heads the ruling coalition government in India and is a coalition partner in Jammu and Kashmir government.

The statement came only three days after intense street protests erupted across Kashmir valley over the killing of popular young rebel commander Burhan Wani and subsequent killing of dozens of civilians. Political gimmick is no surprise and this statement would have been just another in the lot, but the assertion began building grounds with time.

Large civilian turnout at slain rebel commander Burhan Wani's funeral in Tral township in South Kashmir | Photo courtesy: Javed Dar
Large civilian turnout at slain rebel commander Burhan Wani’s funeral in Tral township in South Kashmir | Photo courtesy: Javed Dar

Frenzy patriotism followed the September 18 attack on an Indian Army brigade headquarter in Uri, along the Line of Control (Loc), a de-facto border between India and Pakistan. Eighteen soldiers died, turning-over the ongoing debate surrounding Kashmir, where more than 80 civilians had died in street protests and clashes in the ongoing uprising. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said ‘those behind the attack won’t go unpunished’. Senior BJP leader Ram Madhav said ‘complete jaw for one tooth’. Alleged cross-border shelling followed. Blame-game continued between India and Pakistan.

Suddenly, the Indian Army on September 29 claimed to have conducted what it called a “surgical strike” against some “terror launch pads” in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, across the LoC. Pakistan outrightly rejected it. People, including some prominent political leaders in India, sought audio-visual evidence from the government, but none was released by now.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling on the President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on September 19, 2016, after the Uri attack | Photo: Press Information Bureau
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling on the President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on September 19, 2016, after the Uri attack | Photo: Press Information Bureau

Meanwhile, a news report published by the Times of India (ToI) on June 12 this year resurfaced when Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, mentioned it in a tweet on October 4. The report quoted an unnamed BJP leader saying that the central government was planning a “major internal security operation” in the near future and Home Minister Rajnath Singh would be made to take the credit to boost his standing ahead of the polls in Uttar Pradesh, which is the largest state in India.

The report further quoted an unnamed BJP functionary saying, “There is talk among ministers that the central government is planning a major internal security-related military operation in Jammu and Kashmir. Once the operation is successful, they will hail Rajnath Singh as a hero in the media. That will increase his standing among the people as a tough leader. Once that image is seared into the minds of the people, it will be much easier to project him as the CM face by November. The momentum will be with us and we can win UP.”

Abdullah wrote on Twitter, “I doubt anyone took it seriously.” In a sarcastic tone he said the newspaper did not realise it had a scoop.

An pro-freedom demonstrator displays a placard at a protest rally in South Kashmir on August 28, 2016 | Photo: Muneeb-ul-Islam
An pro-freedom demonstrator displays a placard at a protest rally in South Kashmir on August 28, 2016 | Photo: Muneeb-ul-Islam

The news report came about a month before Wani’s killing and subsequent unrest in Kashmir valley. On July 9, the Indian Express quoted unnamed sources saying that the Jammu and Kashmir police had been tracking Wani’s movement for the last two months. However, sources had cited the by-election to Anantnag Assembly constitution as the reason for delaying the encounter. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was contesting the election.

Nearly 70 days later, the Uri attack took place. India blamed Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad rebel group within hours of the attack, and accused Pakistan of ‘exporting terrorism’. Singh postponed his scheduled visit to Russia and the United States, and called an emergency meeting to review the situation post Uri attack.

Some experts are of the opinion that the attack on the well-fortified camp would not have been possible without support from someone within the security establishment. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), assigned to probe the attack, suspects the hand of an ‘insider’ in facilitating the entry of the militants into the brigade headquarters, Deccan Herald quoted sources saying.

Women stage pro-freedom demonstration at Bijbehara town in South Kashmir | Photo: Muneeb-ul-Islam
Women stage pro-freedom demonstration at Bijbehara town in South Kashmir | Photo: Muneeb-ul-Islam

The June 12 news report continues to come up in public forum. Independent member of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, Er Abdul Rasheed, on October 5 accused the ‘state agencies’ of preparing a fake video near the LoC in Kupwara district so as to portray it as an evidence of ‘surgical strikes’. Rasheed said the issue of surgical strikes need to be understood in reference with the June 12 news report.

BJP accused Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of politicising the ‘surgical strikes’ when he asked the government to release its video footage. Kejriwal said he was concerned over foreign media backing Pakistan’s claim that no such operation took place.

Soon after this, ToI reported on October 4 about hoardings appearing in parts of Uttar Pradesh, praising the Modi-led government and the Army for the surgical strikes. The hoardings featured Modi among other senior BJP members. ToI translated the Hindi hoarding saying, “We will hit you (Pakistan) and definitely hit you, but the gun will be ours, the bullet will be ours, the time will be of our choosing. Just the land will be yours.” Who sanctioned the hoardings remained uncertain.

A hoarding in Uttar Pradesh praising the Modi-led government and the Army for the surgical strikes
A hoarding in Uttar Pradesh praising the Modi-led government and the Army for the surgical strikes

Meanwhile, NDTV on October 6 reported about a hoarding at the BJP office in Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh, which ‘salutes’ the army ‘for carrying out surgical strikes targeting terror camps’. This hoarding too featured Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who is also a senior BJP leader.

Now comes another incident. NDTV reportedly dropped an interview with former home minister and senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram supposedly for being critical of Modi government’s political handling of the surgical strike that the Indian army claimed to have carried out across LoC.

News website The Wire quoted co-founder and chairperson of NDTV saying, ““Like all decisions we take at NDTV, we are driven by editorial and journalistic integrity and the belief that the political mud slinging regarding the surgical strikes without a shred of evidence was actually damaging to our national security.”

The Wire observed, “There is one word which stands out in Roy’s reply because of the importance she places on its presence or absence – evidence. Evidence is central to journalism. But ‘evidence’ is also the word on which the political debate of the past week has turned. While some of the demands for ‘evidence’ of the surgical strikes we have heard over the past few days are misplaced,  the debate arose because the government needlessly withheld information about the operation that ought to be in the public domain in India because it is already known to the Pakistani military – such as the locations hit and the mode of attack. States that are serious welcome verification of claims that they publicly make. This is not because they are afraid their army won’t be trusted but because transparency (on details that do not compromise security) builds greater respect for the capabilities of their military.”

There has been no end to the blame-game, debate over diplomatic and military battle continues echoing on television screens and so does the campaign for Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.

Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa is the founder/editor of news website jandknow.com. He tweets @vijdankawoosa