In his first rally after being anointed the BJP’s prime ministerial face for the 2014 parliamenatary polls, Narendra Modi claimed before an impressive gathering of ex-servicemen at Rewari in Haryana that the “problem” was in Delhi and not at the borders.
He also declared that a solution could be found only when a “competent, patriotic and people-oriented government” was formed at the Centre.
That was Modi in September 2013. In January that year, Sushma Swaraj, then leader of opposition, dared the Manmohan Singh government to get 10 heads from the other side of the border if Pakistan did not return the severed head of martyred soldier Hemraj.
Three years to those muscle-flexing, the BJP is being pulled down by the weight of expectations it created with promise of a decisive leadership that will deal aggression with an iron fist.
The response of BJP leaders on Sunday’s attack on army headquarter in Uri stuck to similar rhetoric that aims to address it core constituency.
“For one tooth, the complete jaw,” BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said. “Days of so-called strategic restraint are over”.
His response was after Modi “assured” the nation that those behind the despicable attack will not go unpunished. Home minister Rajnath Singh called Pakistan a terror state.
BJP chief Amit Shah also accused Pakistan of helping terror outfits to destabilise India but declared that India’s fight against terror was at a “decisive stage”.
But, Sushma Swaraj, now external affairs minister, was missing from action on Twitter that she uses more than often to air views. The ‘10 heads for one’ bravado was missing.
Madhav was not alone in suggesting a hard line. Tripura governor Tathagat Roy, a BJP leader from Bengal, sent out a message to shake the “self respect” of Indians. “17 jawans killed in Pakistan sponsored attack at Uri. Still we must listen to Ghulam Ali and play cricket with Pakis! No self respect.”
The Parivar also wants Modi to act. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) demanded that India attacks terror camps in PoK and reclaim the territory.
Voted to power in 2014, Modi had reached out to Pakistan with an invite to his swearing in ceremony. He took domestic politicians by surprise with an unscheduled stopover in Pakistan last year to attend Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter’s wedding.
All that had the BJP and its supporters a bit anxious about the “56-inch chest” image of Modi, who as Gujarat chief minister would jump the guns to take potshots at Pakistan.
On Sunday, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi tweeted, “Time 4words/jumlas over. Abs foreign policy+security failure by india hence biggest terrorist attack in 15 years. 56” PM must act decisively (sic).”
The warmth in the relationship between Modi and Sharif did not last long and the saffron party was back at taking a hardline approach towards Pakistan.
The attack at the Pathankot air base, Pakistan’s refusal to allow a NIA team to visit its territory and increased infiltration bid only added to the BJP’s problems.
The attack in Uri will further mount pressure on the BJP to go beyond rhetoric and be seen taking “action” against Pakistan - both domestically and internationally.
BJP leaders expected that the Prime Minister raking up human rights violations in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir coupled with a hardline approach to Kashmiri separatists would go down well with its support base ahead of state elections in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
The poll is less than six months away and incidents like Uri attack could undo the gains that the BJP might have hoped to secure from of its muscle flexing on Kashmir, PoK and Balochistan.
The BJP will try hard not to let that happen. Next weekend, its leadership will send out a “warning” to Pakistan from the coastal city of Kozhikode, which will host its national council meeting.
Party sources told HT that a resolution, which will be adopted at the meeting, will refer to the issues that the prime minister raised from the ramparts of Red Fort in his Independence Day speech.
India is also expected to take a more aggressive positioning at the UN General Assembly session on September 26.