IAF strike on terror camp: PM calls oppn 'poster boys of Pak'
Dhar/Dhubri/New Delhi: The political fight over casualty numbers in the IAF strike on a terror camp in Pakistan grew bitter on Tuesday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling the opposition "poster boys" of Pakistan and Home Minister Rajnath Singh suggesting that Congress leaders go there to know the number of terrorists killed.
As the debate on the extent of fatalties inflicted raged, Singh also said the number of terrorists killed in the air strike by Indian Air Force (IAF) on the training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Balakot on February 26 would be known "today or tomorrow".
The Congress for its part urged Modi not to politicise the armed forces with its leader and former Defence Minister A K Antony asserting that BJP president Amit Shah is not the man who should be giving out operational details of the action by the IAF.
Shah earlier claimed "over 250" terrorists were killed in the strike on the biggest training camp of JeM in Pakistan. Asked about this claim at separate news conferences, Union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and V K Singh said it is an 'estimate' by the BJP chief.
At a time when the security forces were still fighting at the borders, the BJP president was giving out operational details of the action by the armed forces, which was very unfortunate, Antony told reporters in Delhi.
"Even now our soldiers died, that details only Army and CRPF can explain, not BJP spokesman or BJP president. It is very very unfortunate.
"Don't politicise the armed forces. Don't bring the military in the politics. I request the BJP president, I request the prime minister don't politicise the Army. As a former defence minister, I am telling them," he said.
Congress on Monday asked what was the basis for Shah's claim and why was Modi or his government not giving the details of casualties.
Key BJP ally Shiv Sena also joined the opposition in saying that India's citizens have the right to know about the casualties in the air strike and that revealing such information would not lower the morale of armed forces.
Calling the opposition as 'poster boys' of Pakistan for seeking proof of IAF's action, Modi said the air strike happened in the neighbouring country, but "some of those sitting in India were hit by it".
"People world over feel that we have done the right thing by replying to Pulwana terror attack," he added.
Taking a swipe at attempts to cobble up a 'mahagathbandhan' (grand alliance) against the BJP, Modi said the opposition leaders are doing 'mahamilavat' (high adulteration) in Pakistan's favour.
"These 'mahamilavati' persons have become poster boys of Pakistan....They are misleading people of the country and trying to demoralise our armed forces by asking for proofs of the IAF air strike," Modi told a rally in Dhar in Madhya Pradesh.
Without naming senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh, he said a leader termed the Pulwama attack as an "accident" and dubbed slain al-Qaeda terrorist Osama bin Laden as an "ambassador of peace".
At another event, Modi said the opposition wants to dislodge him.
"They (opposition) want to strike Modi, but I want to strike on terror," Modi said. "They want to remove this `chowkidar' but I want to fight poverty," he added. Modi was speaking after launching a pension scheme for the unorganised sector in Ahmedabad.
Union minister V K Singh said the terrorist casualty figure of over 250 given by Shah was based on his 'ashanka' (an estimate) formed on the basis of intelligence gathered about people housed in the buildings which were hit.
"It's an estimate. He (Amit Shah) is saying it is 'ashanka' (an estimate on the number of killed). Let us take it as 'ashanka'," he told reporters in Ranchi when asked how can Shah give out a figure of 250 casualties.
On the varying casualty figures in the Balakot strikes, Singh said,"One way is to go there and count and come back. Secondly, what the information you have, you can assess it (figure) and that number is told to the people. Exact figure will be known only when you are there.
"This is not a game of marbles. This is a serious matter. Any action by the forces, no proof is given," the minister of state for external affairs said.
On the day of the strike, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said a "very large number of terrorists" were killed in Balakot. On Monday, IAF chief B S Dhanoa said the Air Force does not count human casualties and it is for the government to provide details on the death toll.
Charging the opposition with doing politics over the strike, Rajnath Singh claimed that the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) system had informed about presence of around 300 active mobile phones at the site before the air strike by India.
"The NTRO, which has an authentic system, said that 300 mobile phones were active (at the Balakot site). Were these mobile phones used by the trees? Now will you (opposition) not believe the NTRO also?" Singh said at a public rally after inaugurating a border project by the BSF in Dhutri in Assam.
"If my Congress friends feel that the numbers should be given to them, then I would like to say that if you want to go to Pakistan, then go, count and ask people there that how many were killed by our Air Force jawans," Singh said
"Some leaders of the other political parties are asking how many terrorists were killed in the IAF strike. Today or tomorrow, it will be known. Pakistan and their leaders' heart know how many were killed."
He took a dig at the opposition for questioning the number of terrorists killed and said the parties were up to, "kitne mare, kitne mare?" (how many died?)
"Should our Air Force go and count the bodies after the attack -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...? What is this joke?" he questioned.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in Chennai that the Indian Foreign Secretary had not given any casualty figure at his media briefing after the air strike and only gave a statement which is the government's "position".
At the BJP briefing in Delhi, senior leader Ravi Shankar Prasad accused the Congress of trying to lower the morale of security forces for "purely petty political gains", as he cited comments of leaders of the opposition party on the air strike to allege that these are a part of a "conspiracy" with "blessings" of their president Rahul Gandhi.
He also seized on Digvijay Singh's tweet, terming the Pulwama terror attack an "accident", to mount a stinging attack on the opposition party to say its senior leaders are speaking the language of Pakistan.