Strike boosts Modi’s polls chances | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 27, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, February 27, 2019

Strike boosts Modi’s polls chances

India celebrates action against Pakistan; opposition leaders hail brave IAF pilots

Indians took to the streets in celebration across the country yesterday after the government said it carried out air strikes inside Pakistan killing hundreds of militants in a training camp.

The reaction may be a sign that support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi is surging months before a general election, pollsters said. Patriotism may be having a greater influence than concerns about low farm incomes and weak jobs growth.

India said air force jets hit a training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), the militant group that claimed credit for a Feb 14 suicide bombing attack that killed Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir, a mountainous region also claimed by neighbouring Pakistan.

"A very large number of Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists" were killed, Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said. Pakistan said there had been no casualties at all.

While the results of the strikes in the early hours of Tuesday were disputed, that didn't stop many in India from believing their government's version of events.

“Modi ji has finally done it”, said Sandeep Sharma, a driver in the Jammu region of India's border state of Jammu and Kashmir, using an honorific for Modi. “There's a lot of anger against Pakistan here.”

India's opposition leaders, many of whom have banded together against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), congratulated the Indian Air Force (IAF), though they stopped short of praising Modi.

"I salute the pilots of the IAF," Rahul Gandhi, leader of India's main opposition Congress, said in a tweet.

Messages of support also came from Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted: "IAF also means India''s Amazing Fighters. Jai Hind".

Shelling across the LoC has occurred frequently over the past few years but incursions into the other country's air space are rare - let alone an attack well into Pakistan.

Modi has been under pressure to retaliate since the suicide car bombing in Kashmir's Pulwama, which India alleges was orchestrated by Pakistan's intelligence agency, and tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours have escalated in recent days.

Yesterday's strike will not only boost Modi's campaign in the election due by May, political analysts said, but also take the spotlight off economic issues for which the BJP has felt the heat.

The BJP lost a string of state elections late last year, after which opposition parties have attempted to form a coalition to take on Modi.

And although his ratings have dropped to their lowest-ever level, Modi remains the most popular leader in the country, an India Today poll showed last month.

"A large proportion of voters who had started drifting away from the BJP would come back to the fold," Sanjay Kumar, director of the CSDS think-tank and a leading pollster, said. "This all goes to the advantage of the BJP."

As news of the strike emerged, India's television channels flashed patriotic slogans and headlines including TIMES NOW's "Proud moment for undefeatable Bharat", using a Hindi word for India.

Some recalled the so-called "surgical strike" on suspected militant camps in Pakistan in 2016 after an attack by militants on an Indian army camp.

On Twitter, #SurgicalStrike2, #IndianAirForce and #IndiaStrikesBack were the top trending hash tags in India.

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