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No-holds-barred: BJP-Congress slugfest over 'surgical strikes' escalates

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 7 October 2016, 19:44 IST

The Congress on 7 October launched a no-holds-barred offensive on the BJP, tearing into BJP chief Amit Shah and turning the debate over the Army's cross-LoC 'surgical strikes' into a full-fledged slugfest.

The Congress attack, mounted by former union minister Kapil Sibal, followed Shah's attack on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi over the latter's 'khoon ki dalali' remark.

Also read - How US diplomacy put brakes on India-Pakistan escalation after 'surgical strikes'

BJP lashes out

Shah addressed a press conference Friday morning in New Delhi, the sole purpose of which was to respond to Gandhi's comments made on 6 October as he ended his month-long kisan yatra. Gandhi had said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was hiding behind the soldiers of the Indian army and doing 'dalali' over them. The word has many implications and Gandhi did not elaborate what was he referring to as his comments were very brief.

However, the BJP took strong exception to the comment immediately and slammed Gandhi the entire evening. Shah turned the comment into the focus of his press meet this morning, saying the word 'dalali' was identified with the culture of Congress and that Gandhi should not use it for BJP.

Giving Gandhi's statement a spin, Shah accused him of insulting the Army's soldiers and aligning his party with Pakistan.

Disowned 'surgical strikes' posters

The BJP chief said the strikes were an exemplary achievement of the Army and the BJP tried its best to ensure that it should not be politicised. He said no senior leader of the party made any statement staking political claim for the strikes. However, Shah also mentioned that some leaders of the party at local levels may have raised a slogan or two and brought out some posters but the party could not be held responsible for them.

Shah said that the party could not be held responsible for slogans raised by local leaders

What was important, he insisted, was that the prime minister, home minister Rajnath Singh, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and finance minister Arun Jaitley made any statement to this effect. He did not comment on defence minister Manohar Parrikar's comment about Pakistan being in 'coma' after surgical strikes. Parrikar also attended party functions in Agra where he accepted felicitations from UP BJP chief Keshav Prasad Maurya for the strikes.

Shah later contradicted his own position on politicising the strikes by announcing that the party will now hit the streets over the issue and urge the country to be proud of them. Subsequently, he also made a casual remark on Gandhi that gave enough fodder to the Congress party to hit back. Asking the Congress why wasn't it proud of the 'surgical strikes', Shah said "Congress ke mool me hi khot hai" (there is a flaw in Congress' roots). He later corrected "mool" to "mool soch", but the damage had already been done.

Sibal takes on Shah

At the Congress' press conference held soon after, Sibal said that the BJP was not only inexperienced in governance, it has no experience in giving statements too.

In a frontal attack on Shah without naming him, Sibal said will those who have murder charges against them and have spent time in prison tell the Congress whose roots are flawed? He demanded that the prime minister discipline Shah.

Sibal said that this not the first time such strikes were conducted, but these were never publicised

On the 'surgical strikes', Sibal reiterated that this was not the first time the Indian Army had conducted these, but previous governments never publicised them. By saying that had Army conducted these for the first time, Modi is insulting the Army and should apologise for it, Sibal added. He compared Pakistan to a patient that was affected by a cancer of terrorism and what the Indian army was doing essentially amounted to administering chemotherapy through such strikes.

He said many rounds of chemotherapy would be needed before this patient could be cured of the cancer, but BJP has started to politicise it. Referring to Shah's statement that the party will now go to the people telling them about the strikes, Sibal said the BJP chief himself had made very his party's ambition to politicise them. He recalled an Election Commission advisory of 2013 in which he alleged that the Commission had cautioned the BJP against use of armed forces for electoral campaign purposes.

Rekindling BJP's Kandahar connection

Sibal's salvos came one after the other as he alleged that BJP was directly responsible for the terror attacks emanating from Pakistan orchestrated by Jaish-e-Mohammad. His accusation was that had BJP not released dreaded terrorist Masood Azhar in the Kandahar-hijacking case in 1999, he wouldn't have established Jaish and these terror attacks wouldn't have happened.

Sibal further accused Modi of faulty handling of Pakistan by landing in Lahore on Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's birthday and hugging him.

He also asked the PM why was a close friend of the latter's setting up a 4,000-megawatt power plant in Pakistan. It is rumoured that the Adani group is trying to do this.

Sibal also taunted Modi, asking him if he had so much love for the Armed forces why did his government reduce the disability pension for soldiers?

The Congress also showed a video at the press meet which featured a compilation of several past statements of Modi in which he had said that India was suffering from so many terror attacks because of the weakness of India's armed forces.

Is 'Dalali' attack a considered move?

Even after the press interaction, the Congress continued its attack on Modi, Shah and BJP, refusing to back off from the 'dalali' remark and pressing ahead with it, instead.

The party's members and social media volunteers were even tweeting vociferously last night with the hashtag #ModiStop��-़ून_की_दलाली.

A political observer in Uttar Pradesh told Catch on the condition of anonymity that the 'dalali' remark was not a random comment but part of a well thought-out strategy. The source said the Congress discovered during Gandhi's UP campaign that people in only eastern parts of the state responded well to the farmers' concerns that he raised during his khaat sabhas and roadshows. Once the campaign entered western UP, the crowds started getting thinner.

The Congress plan was to cleverly ask this: Has the BJP used the Army to derive political mileage?

They noticed that in these parts the buzz was more about the 'surgical strikes' and how Modi has taught Pakistan a lesson. The ubiquitous BJP posters tom-tomming the military action as Modi's and BJP's achievement also indicated this. It was then that senior Congress leadership decided that Gandhi would touch upon the issue and attack Modi on it.

The backlash from BJP was also accounted for, but it was felt that Gandhi's statements and a subsequent Congress campaign would succeed in at least raising this question cleverly: Has the BJP used the Army to derive political mileage?

Both parties seem to have taken the gloves off this time.

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

More in Catch - On surgical strikes, BJP asks Kejriwal: "why are you swayed by Pak propaganda?"

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First published: 7 October 2016, 19:44 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.