The Pulwama attack has been one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in the Kashmir region in recent years.
On February 14, a suicide-bomber ambushed a paramilitary convoy on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. The 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans riding in the convoy died from the blast.
Although there were 2,500 CRPF personnel in a total of 78 vehicles, the police said, “One vehicle bore the brunt of the blast, resulting in multiple casualties.”
The Ministry of External Affairs blamed a Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed for the attack.
The gruesome, unexpected nature of the attack and huge number of casualties understandably provoked emotional responses from leaders and citizens. However, this sentiment quickly devolved into anger and vengeance.
Politicisation of the attack
This week, the BJP and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) have been locked in a bitter, public war of words.
TDP President and Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu commented on Modi’s efforts with the Pulwama attack. He suggested that Modi take “moral responsibility” for the incident and resign, especially since Modi had asked former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to do the same during his tenure.
“The BJP government which is using all intelligence agencies in the country to track the movements of political opponents should have used that intel to identify and foil terror strikes,” he said in a public address.
ANI reports that Naidu said the threat to India’s national security was because of the “inefficiency” of the BJP whose leaders are “belittling the nation with their petty actions and wrongdoings.”
Naidu seemed to echo the sentiment of West Bengal Prime Minister Mamata Banerjee who also criticised how Modi has dealt with the Pulwama incident.
BJP President Amit Shah did not take kindly to Naidu’s comments. In a strong statement, Shah condemned Naidu and towed the party line in a speech addressing BJP party workers.
Reacting to Naidu’s comments, Shah said, “Chandrababu Naidu has more faith in Prime Minister of Pakistan rather than Prime Minister of his own country and Indian Army. One should not stoop so low for vote bank politics.”
Shah added that the Modi government has a “zero tolerance policy towards terrorism.” He also said that Modi has given Indian security agencies “a free hand to decide on when and where to hit the perpetrators” of the attack.
Shah’s comments reflect a militarised outlook on Indo-Pak relations that, no doubt, find resonance among many others in the country who have been insisting on a retaliatory surgical strike.
At a rally in Assam, Shah also took a swing at the Congress and said that the grand old party of India has taken a soft stance on national security.
Naidu also said that the Andhra Pradesh government will be giving Rs 5 lakh ex-gratia to the families of all the martyred officers. “The entire national is grieving the loss of the brave CRPF Jawans. In their saddest hour, we stand by the bereaved families,” he said.
Congress task force
The Congress has recruited Lieutenant General DS Hooda to chair a national security task force.
Hooda, who supervised the surgical strike after the Uri attack that killed 19 soliders in 2016, is now helping the Congress formulate its national security platform for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Although Hooda and Congress President Rahul Gandhi met, Hooda clarified that he is not joining the Congress, simply advising it on matters related to national security.
Hooda said, “I will pick my own team, which may consist of five to six people. They may be drawn from varied backgrounds such as military, foreign policy experts, and even the police.”
While it may seem difficult to turn this into a politicisation of Pulwama, the Congress did it.
Congress National Spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted an article where Hooda says that hyping successful military operations is a dangerous move that encourages politicisation.
“Success has its burdens and my worry is if you hype a successful operations so much, planning a similar operation next time could lead to thoughts on what will happen if it does not meet the same standards of success. It would have been better had we done it quietly,” says Hooda referring to the 2016 strike.
In her tweet, Chaturvedi says, “But then who can explain this to Publicity Minster of India, Modi ji.”
Beyond this, the Congress has capitalised on the Pulwama attack and used it as fodder against Modi in the run-up to the elections.
According to the Financial Express, Congress leader Surjewala said that “it was painful to see that even after the Pulwama terror attack, the Prime Minister did not announce national mourning in order to not cancel political rallies and inauguration sprees which took place at the expense of public exchequer by PM Modi.”
Congress leaders have also criticised Modi’s focus on his approach to international relations during this time.
From sensationalist media coverage that sparking riots against and persecution of minorities- especially Kashmiris—to politicians on both sides of the aisle exploiting the tragedy as a political talking points, the fallout from Pulwama has been nothing short of devastating.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius