NEW DELHI, Jan 14: India’s leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, considered to be a moderate in her otherwise rightwing Hindu party, pressed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday to retrieve the head of a decapitated Indian soldier or to get 10 Pakistani skulls instead.

Congress spokesman Rashid Alvi, echoing the shrill demand, warned Pakistan of consequences for alleged killing of two Indian soldiers after crossing the Line of Control. India would “not like to see a war anywhere in the world” but “will not tolerate any humiliation to its soldiers... No eventuality can cow us down”.

The words would make any government familiar with the two countries’ history of nuclear brinkmanship sit up with worry.

In what has become possibly the most televised spectacle of manufactured frenzy between the nuclear-armed neighbours since the 2002 military standoff, the LoC incident has seen former army officers and hawkish TV anchors pushing the government to go for Pakistan’s jugular.

Ms Swaraj was quoted as saying that if India could not recover the head of Lance Naik Hemraj Singh, it should at least bring back Pakistani heads.

“The incident that has happened, we should take revenge…. If we don’t get this (Hemraj Singh’s) head, we should get 10 of theirs,” she said.

The senior BJP leader, along with party president Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh, was visiting Hemraj’s family in Shernagar, Uttar Pradesh. Hemraj’s wife and mother were on an indefinite fast demanding that his head be found and returned. They broke the fast when Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav visited them to condole with the family.

The military was not far behind. Army Chief Bikram Singh, referring to Hemraj Singh’s beheading, said: “What the Pakistani side did was unpardonable and gruesome.” He also said that there were no operations from the Indian side on January 6 as claimed by Pakistan.

He accused Pakistan of planning a cross-LoC shootout and said he had instructed commanders to respond aggressively if there was a provocation from the other side.

“The attack on January 8 was premeditated, a pre-planned activity. Such an operation requires planning, detailed reconnaissance,” General Bikram Singh told a news conference in New Delhi.

“I expect all my commanders at the Line of Control to be both aggressive and offensive in the face of provocation and fire,” he added.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon to brief the opposition leaders on the status of the joint military-media driven standoff.

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