Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Thursday ruled out releasing the video footage of the army’s surgical strikes across the LoC and questioned the “loyalty” of those who “doubt” the forces. It’s up to the government whether it should release the footage or not. The Prime Minister’s Office will take a final call on the matter. But the argument that those who question the government’s decision not to release footage of the strike are not “loyal” to the country or “doubt” the army’s capabilities is misleading. In the aftermath of the surgical strike, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has done an enormous disservice to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian Army with ad hominem attacks on opposition leaders. Barring Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam, no political leader has doubted the army’s version of events on the night of September 29. Modi’s recent missive to his party colleagues to “avoid speaking out of turn” and not indulge in chest-thumping on the subject should have sufficed. Unfortunately, at a party function in Agra, Parrikar could not resist himself and did just the opposite. For reasons best known to the BJP, its leaders have decided to turn a swift strategic and tactical win into a national event sponsored by the party, while denouncing people in the opposition as agents of the enemy. One can be opposed to the BJP, and yet praise its Prime Minister for his decision to follow through on strikes against terror launch pads. In fact, one can safely accuse the BJP of indulging in petty politics over the surgical strikes by putting up hoardings of the military operation along with pictures of its local leaders in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.
Instead of just congratulating itself on a job well-done and moving past the events of September 29, the Defence Minister has given into the temptation of triumphalism. One must remember that this isn’t the first time that such chest-thumping has hurt India strategically. Remember the “covert” strikes into Myanmar conducted by the Special Forces to take out Naga insurgents? The pompous claims made in the aftermath of the strike by ministers in the Modi government had negative repercussions. It led the Myanmar government to reassert the country’s sovereignty and announce that the Indian Army never entered their territory. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had to fly to Myanmar for a damage control exercise as New Delhi received indications that Myanmar would reconsider any such assistance in the future. Strategically, the sense of triumphalism projected by the ruling party in the aftermath of the surgical strikes has also raised expectations about the room India possess to retaliate against Pakistan. The truth of the matter is no such additional room has been created and surgical strikes are possibly the best military option available to India without the fear of serious escalation. “The operations aimed at neutralising terrorists have since ceased. We do not have any plans for further continuation,” said the DGMO’s statement in the aftermath of the surgical strikes. The next time a terror strike hits Indian soil, the calls for war would get a lot shriller and the government would find it harder to sell restraint to its bloodthirsty supporters. Political parties would be best advised to tone down their rhetoric.