NEW DELHI: India’s opposition Congress party on Thursday echoed criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he was using the Pulwama tragedy for electoral gains and asked him to own moral responsibility for the intelligence failure in the killing of 40 paramilitary men by a home-grown suicide bomber.
The party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala accused Mr Modi of shooting for a film in the Corbett tiger reserve for hours after the car bombing of the paramilitary convoy Feb 14.
He said the government failed to declare mourning for the tragedy as that would interfere with his public appearances.
The Congress remained silent for almost a week after the attack as a mark of respect for the soldiers who had been killed, but the Bharatiya Janata Party and the prime minister had spared no time to use it to get back to power in upcoming elections, Mr Surjewala said.
He recalled that BJP president Amit Shah’s speech in Assam on Feb 17 had said: “This time it’s not a Congress government that is in power. The BJP government of Narendra Modi does not do any compromise in matters of national security.”
The Congress leader said Mr Shah’s speech was provocative. “Congress party has supported the government and our armed forces. We want strong action against Pakistan, which sponsors terrorism in India.
Congress and the whole nation is firm in its stand against terrorism. However, it is unfortunate that our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has prioritised his hunger for power more than respecting the martyrdom of our soldiers.”
A senior BJP minister retorted by saying that the Congress was speaking the language of Prime Minister Imran Khan who too told Mr Modi not to play politics with the Pulwama tragedy.
“Modiji rajdharma bhul kar kewal raj bachane ki jugat mein lage hai (Modi has forgotten the responsibility of his chair and is only trying to protect his power)”, Mr Surjewala said.
Adding that since Feb 14, when the Pulwama attack happened, the Congress and the entire nation has been in mourning.
He questioned the BJP’s attack on the Congress. “Has the BJP forgotten that in 1947, 1965, and 1971, the Indian army, under Congress governments, had taught Pakistan a tough lesson. The country still remembers how Indiraji (Gandhi) got Bangladesh its independence from Pakistan.
The Pakistan’s lieutenant general Aamir Abdullah Khan Niazi with his 91,000 soldiers were forced to surrender in front of our eastern commander, lieutenant general Jagjit Singh Arora. These events are inscribed in our history.”
He alleged that the government deliberately refused to declare national mourning as the prime minister wanted to politicise the “tragic terror attack” at the government’s expense. He said had the government declared a national mourning, it would have had to cancel the government events in which Mr Modi sought publicity for his party.
“Modi was shooting for a film (produced by Discovery channel) till about 6.45 pm in Rampur the day the attack happened. The attack happened at 3.10 pm, the Congress gave its reaction at 5.15 pm. However, the prime minister came out of the Corbett National Park at 6.45 pm and encouraged slogans in his favour. He then went onto savour chai-naasta (tea and snacks) at 7 pm at a government guest house when the nation was shocked and mourning,” Mr Surjewala said.
“When the whole country was mourning the loss of lives of our jawans in the Pulwama attack in the afternoon, PM Modi was busy shooting for a film till the evening. Is there any PM in the world like this?” he asked.
Mr Surjewala also pulled up BJP national executive member Sakshi Maharaj for allegedly laughing, waving at the crowd in a soldier’s funeral and cabinet minister Alphons Kannanthanam for clicking a selfie with a soldier’s coffin.
He also alleged that the prime minister’s trip to South Korea “in this time of national crisis” is an insult to the martyrs. “The prime minister’s ‘sair-sapaata’ (sight-seeing) is highly offensive to our soldiers.”
He said Mr Modi is the same leader who addressed a press meet in Mumbai even as the 26/11 attacks were still underway.
The chief spokesperson said that Congress has always taken responsibility of such terror attacks. “We have a long history. Lal Bahadur Shastri had resigned after a train accident. If you remember, our Union home minister Shivraj Patil submitted his resignation after the 26/11 attacks.”
“But we have a government today which only wants to take political advantage from a crisis,” he said. However, he refrained from demanding anyone’s resignation.
Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2019