Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar is not someone who holds himself back for long. His remarks in Mumbai on the Indian army’s post-Uri surgical strikes yielded several indicators. The government will milk the successful, nil-casualty army operation for all it is worth. After the statutory homage to the armed forces, the Defense Minister indicated why an operation like this must have been in the works. Three attacks had dented the Prime Minister’s strong man image and the constituency that vociferously backs him was thirsting for the kind of revenge promised in the run-up to the parliamentary elections. “The major share for the credit goes to the Prime Minister for decision-making and planning,” Parrikar had observed.
Parrikar made the statutory denial about reaping political mileage. But the surgical raids have come as oxygen for the government. This was clear from Parrikar’s hagiographic positioning of Modi in the entire episode, the BJP’s massive hoardings thanking Modi for the strikes and the Prime Minister himself promising that this Ussher was a “very special occasion for the country”. In the by-now familiar good cop-bad cop routine, Modi refrained from commenting on the strikes during his Ussher address in Lucknow. He instead opted for coded references, symbols of political Hindutva and battle cries of communal mobilization. This left the audience in no doubt about the identity of the targeted “other” in the elections to the UP assembly.
However, the army action may not have a long political shelf life. In Punjab, the BJP-Akali Dal faces 10 years of anti-incumbency. The fiasco of evacuating all border villages may have neutralized the advantage of the surgical strikes. Kashmir, the cause of the trouble since Burhan Wani was shot dead, does not buy into this discourse at all. A different narrative is required to put an end to three months of curfew, encounters and mass vandalism. There is little doubt that adroit packaging has helped New Delhi shore up its core constituency. But it cannot continue to trivialize the pain and aspirations of the people of Kashmir. This chest-thumping will affect efforts to turn around the situation in the Valley.