NEW DELHI — Seeking to put the government on the back foot, opposition parties Monday latched on to BJP chief Amit Shah’s claim of 250 casualties in the Indian Air Force’s air strike in Pakistan’s Balakot to ask how he got such top secret information.
Congress spokesperson RPN Singh accused the prime minister and the BJP leadership of politicising the air strike and said Modi should apologise to the country for trying to portray the Indian Air Force (IAF) as being “weaker without Rafale” and undermining its abilities.
He counter-accused the BJP and its leaders of spreading misinformation and “false propaganda” over the air strike ahead of elections and said the people of the country would give them a befitting reply.
Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal also said if Shah is claiming 250 casualties of terrorists in the air strike, why is the prime minister not providing details of the number of deaths.
He cited several international media reports claiming “no proof of militant losses at Balakot” and asked Modi if those media organisations are “pro-Pakistan”.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala referred to Union minister SS Ahluwalia’s reported remarks that the government never claimed to have killed 300-350 terrorists in the air strike and asked the prime minister to share the “truth” with the country.
Referring to Shah’s statement on the casualties in the air strike, RPN Singh asked, “Where is this number coming from and who is politicising this whole incident.”
“Why is the prime minister not giving details and saying how many people have died in the air strike. Why is the government not confirming this,” he asked.
The former union minister said Modi is talking about Rafale, Shah about how many people died in the air strike and the BJP Delhi president is wearing army fatigue for his political campaigns.
“Here is the prime minister, who says that the air force would have been much stronger if we had Rafale (fighter jets). We would like the prime minister to apologise for saying that...
“The prime minister has tried to show that the air force is weaker because it does not have Rafale. We would like him to apologise for saying so because the Indian Air Force has always protected our skies and given a befitting reply, whenever it has been attacked by the Pakistanis,” Singh said.
The BJP hit back asking the Congress not to “mislead” the country and “insult” the armed forces with “fake and fabricated” stories.
Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the Congress and its allies are “crying” while terrorists and their sponsors are hit.
“Is this a coincidence or a partnership? It is unfortunate that when the entire country is speaking in one voice to salute our armed forces’ valour, the Congress and its allies are raising such questions,” he said.
Amid the raging debate on number of casualties in the strike, IAF chief BS Dhanoa Monday said in Coimbatore that the air force doesn’t count human casualties and it was for the government to provide details on the terrorists killed.
The air force doesn’t count human casualties, Dhanoa said.
While there has been no official statement on the number of deaths, government sources had earlier said up to 350 terrorists were killed, Shah Sunday put the toll at 250.
Some media reports claimed that the damage has been minimal, prompting opposition leaders to clamour for clarity.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Monday said Shah took a stand contradictory to that of the armed forces.
“The armed forces are also saying this. Amit Shah is saying that the armed forces are lying, 250 (terrorists) were killed. Shah is calling the armed forces a liar. The country will not tolerate this under any circumstances,” Kejriwal tweeted in Hindi.
BSP chief Mayawati attacked Modi for his remarks on Rafale jets, asking why the BJP government at the Centre did not induct even one of these fighters into the IAF during its tenure.
“Rafale fighter could have proven useful in the fight against Pakistan, claims PM Modi in his rallies. Even then not a single Rafale inducted into IAF fleet during his government’s tenure.
“Better explain people why this kind of lapse and neglect even by the BJP on the issue of country’s safety and security?” Mayawati said in a tweet.
CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said discrepancies in the casualty figures indicates that nothing on the air strike is based on facts and accused the BJP of politicising the air strike.
He alleged that pictures of “martyrs” and Wing Commander Abhinandan were being used in poll campaign.
“The air force has not counted, the government is speaking in multiple voices, but the BJP president is dishing out numbers. If he has access to secret information which even the IAF chief does not have, it’s a breach of national security. If not, he is lying,” he said.
CPI leader D Raja accused Modi and the BJP of “demeaning” the armed forces and questioned Shah’s claims of casualties.
He said it is Modi who is “demoralising” the armed forces by dragging them into “dirty politics and controversies.”
“If the air force chief is not giving figures and description of damages, then how come Amit Shah is giving figures of 250 casualties. Who gave him this figure. PM Modi should tell the nation and people,” he said.
NCP’s Sharad Pawar said if the information on casualty had come from defence personnel, he would have taken it seriously.