The controversy over Delhi University student and army martyr’s daughter Gurmehar Kaur’s stand that it was not Pakistan but war that killed her father is likely to feed into the BJP’s nationalistic narrative that the party is seeking to build in poll-bound eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Building its campaign around Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, the party is showcasing the army’s September 29 surgical strikes on terror launch pads across the border in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), besides those across Myanmar border last June.
“Bharat mein aisi sarkar hai ki jo agar koi aankh dikhata hai, to aankh nikal lete hain (there is such a government in India that if anyone decides to dare, it gouges their eyes out,” Union minister Manoj Sinha said at an election rally in Sadar constituency of Ghazipur.
HT followed Sinha on his campaign trail last week; the army’s cross-border strikes in PoK and Myanmar were the recurrent theme in all his speeches.
This marked a change in the BJP’s poll tactic in UP. In the run up to the polls, the party sought to encash the surgical strikes politically, hailing the NDA government’s decision in banners put up across the state.
The party later chose to focus on the ‘class divide’— the poor versus the rich — over demonetisation and on social engineering by seeking to bring together a coalition of upper castes, non-Yadav other backward classes (OBCs) and non-Jatav Dalits.
Mid-way through the seven-phase elections, the BJP is harping back on surgical strikes to bolster its campaign.
It’s based on the feedback that people support Modi’s tough stance against Pakistan, said party sources. The party has roped in ex-servicemen to spread this message across eastern UP.
The raging debate on the DU student’s stand could fit in well with this poll narrative of the BJP. Interactions with villagers across Varanasi, Ghazipur and Mirzapur districts indicated that the BJP’s hopes of gains from a fresh wave of nationalistic fervour.
Retired Naib Subedar Hriday Narayan Singh of Gahmar village in Ghazipur, for instance, was upset with the way one-rank-one-pension (OROP) scheme was implemented. “I got nothing (from OROP). It made a difference of ?47 only in my monthly pension. But it wasn’t Modiji’s fault. Civilian officers did it. Modiji has done a great job for the country. Surgical strikes have made us proud,” Singh told HT.
Gahmar, the country’s biggest village with around 4,400 families, has about 5,000 ex-servicemen and an equal number of people serving the army.
Other ex-servicemen gathered there heaped praise on Modi for “putting Pakistan in place”. The BJP, said sources, has drawn some ex-servicemen from this village to travel around and tell people about Modi’s “bold leadership”.
About 120 km away from Gahmar, Ramashray Verma of Deoria village in Varanasi’s Pindra assembly constituency was also all praise for the Prime Minister. “The way Modiji has challenged Pakistan…what did others do? What did Manmohan Singh do?” he said.
BJP is hoping to ride on such sentiments to come to power in Lucknow and it might not be displeased about the controversy in New Delhi, which has triggered yet another debate on who is nationalist and who is not.