With Congress president saluting the IAF pilots, the dustup over the Rafale defence deal will now recede into the background.
The Congress, Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal and even the BJP’s perennial dissenters such as Yashwant Sinha participated in the “nationalist”celebration that followed the air strikes, reportedly smashing Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camps at Balakot in Pakistan early on Tuesday morning. The IAF’s sorties, a retaliation for the killing of CRPF jawans in Pulwama on February 14, virtually silenced an Opposition that seemed to have the first mover advantage a little over a month ago after the BJP lost three of its key states in elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the assault to his political advantage in words and the ocular. He addressed a pre-scheduled public meeting at Rajasthan’s Churu and raised a slogan that had formed a refrain in his 2014 campaign to reinforce his patriotic credentials. The slogan has the ring of a war-cry and says, “Saugandh mujhe is mitti ki, mein desh nahi mitne doonga, mein desh nahi jhukne dooga” (I pledge with a handful of the earth of my motherland, that I will never allow my country to be obliterated, I will never allow my country to bend).
On a ride on Delhi’s metro to unveil a Bhagawad Gita, weighing 800 kg, at the ISKCON temple, he played with kids, took selfies with passengers and exchanged greetings with a couple of Muslims. The event was intended to convey that it was business as usual for him after Tuesday’s earthshaking occurrence.
Indeed, notwithstanding the BJP’s effort to not politicise the Balakot incursion, its immediate fallout has meant everything positive for Modi.
First, with Congress president saluting the IAF pilots today, the dustup over the Rafale defence deal, that raised questions over the government’s supposedly squeaky clean image, will recede into the background, unless Rahul resurrects it adeptly. Congress sources admitted that in the jingoistic sentiments pervading the ambience, it did not seem prudent on their part to bring up Rafale again, particularly because the deal impinges on fighter aircrafts, the protagonist of today’s strikes.
Second, Balakot re-establishes Modi’s supremacy within the BJP and the larger saffron fraternity. It scotches the speculation that if the BJP turned up with fewer numbers in the 2019 election than what it had in 2014, the leadership joust would begin. Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh were mentioned as potential contenders to Modi.
Third, the RSS, habituated to showing its “clout” over the BJP and the government in oblique ways, has no choice but to back Modi, even if it finds the concept of personality cult inimical.
Fourth, the Ayodhya zealots, who had begun pressurising the Centre to get cracking on the Ram temple, will have to take a back seat. The BJP’s belief was nationalism trumped religion.
With the elections two months away, the BJP is expected to build on the nationalist card, slowly but surely, cautious not to invite the sort of negative reviews it did after the Pulwama attack.
Of paramount importance is Pakistan’s response and the possibility of waging a limited conflict. Equally, the Opposition’s campaign has to be watched out for the ability to privilege bread-butter issues over nationalism.