Inside track: How Balakot attack gives PM Modi an edge ahead of Lok Sabha polls

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Updated: March 03, 2019 6:56 AM

Several delegates were taken aback at the controversial yoga teacher receiving special praise.

But in politics the situation can change overnight, and elections are yet to be declared.

The Pulwama edge

India’s response at Balakot to the Pulwama attack may have given Prime Minister Narendra Modi an edge in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls. On social media, some known Modi baiters suddenly changed their tune. A Gujarati newspaper critical of Modi for over a decade did a U-turn. After Pulwama, there was a front-page cartoon of Modi with the headline ‘56-inch Cowardice’; after Balakot, the headline was ‘56-inch Valour’. A senior columnist with a Sangh background, who has frequently accused the PM and BJP president Amit Shah of sinking the country, wrote that heads of the Opposition will roll in the ‘Third battle of Panipat’ and that Modi could emerge with 300 seats.

The Opposition fears that Modi has stolen the narrative and issued a statement urging the PM not to politicise the action against Pakistan. The timing of events certainly is disadvantageous for the Congress. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was to have addressed her first press conference on the same day as the suicide attack. She discretely shelved the conference after observing a minute’s silence for the dead men.

The Congress postponed its Working Committee meeting in Gujarat following India’s strike against Pakistan, and Jairam Ramesh was asked to redraft some of the party’s resolutions, keeping in mind the stress on national security. The PM’s decision to make Sushma Swaraj brief opposition leaders was seen as Modi putting himself on a pedestal above everyone else. But in politics the situation can change overnight, and elections are yet to be declared.

BJP’s Malik problem

J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik does not conduct himself on the lines of a traditional head of state. The office is ceremonial and he is not expected to express himself beyond platitudes and prepared texts. But Malik is not a seasoned bureaucrat, nor does he belong to the Sangh tradition of not speaking out of turn. Malik, who was once Chaudhary Charan Singh’s Man Friday, is from the Lok Dal/socialist school of politics, with an opinion on most topics and always ready to express himself freely. He may be a newsman’s delight, but the BJP’s Kashmir think-tank is furious with him for frequently giving interviews which embarrass the government. After the attack on the CRPF convoy, Malik was quick to comment that there should be serious introspection on security lapses. He questioned the need for such a long CRPF convoy and asked why there were not adequate security checks on the highway. Actually, Malik has little role in the administration of the state unlike predecessor N N Vohra. Chief secretary B V R Subrahmanyam is in regular touch with the PMO and runs the show, while the governor’s security adviser, K Vijay Kumar, liaises directly with NSA Ajit Doval.

No questions, please

That reports in the international press generally downplayed India’s claims of major destruction at a Jaish training camp in Balakot, reflects the Indian government’s poor media management. At the Indian press conferences on the first two days after the strike, a junior MEA officer simply read out a statement, no questions were permitted. The Pakistan army, on the other hand, responded to all queries put by scribes at briefings and facilitated important foreign news agencies such as the BBC and Al Jazeera to visit Balakot and get a first-hand look, perhaps after damage control had already been done. In contrast, foreign correspondents in India can no longer visit J&K without prior permission and such sanction is rarely given.

Low-key festivities

A K Sharma was one of the officers transferred from the CBI after the war between former CBI director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana blew up. Sharma, who was close to Verma and had the powerful position of joint director, CBI, and was coordinating with the Centre, is now in a backwater posting as Additional DG, CRPF. The low-key reception for his son’s wedding in Ahmedabad recently, in a modest hotel, brought back memories of the grand wedding ceremony of Asthana’s daughter at the Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara, attended by the who’s who of Gujarat, three years ago. Among the few recognisable guests at Sharma’s function were Amit Shah’s son
Jay Shah and Rajya Sabha MP Parimal Nathwani.

Setting an example?

At an interaction with young heads from Delhi’s business community last month, President Ram Nath Kovind deplored that businesspersons did not strive to ensure ethics and transparency in business dealings. He singled out one company for praise for spanning the trust deficit between consumer and producer, Patanjali. Kovind felt this was why Baba Ramdev’s company was doing so well. Several delegates were taken aback at the controversial yoga teacher receiving special praise.

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