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 February 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 yesterday were disputed, that didn’t stop many in India from believing their government’s version of events.
“Modi 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.
In a village 100 metres from the Line of Control (LoC) that acts as the de facto border with Pakistan, men gathered around a bunker for security forces that is under construction and shouted slogans hailing India.
“We will celebrate tonight,” one said, “We have lost so many of our villagers to Pakistani firing.”
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 neighbors 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.
“I think this is going to boost the electoral prospects of the BJP because people are generally in a celebration mood, that the government has been able to teach a lesson to Pakistan,” said Sanjay Kumar, director of the CSDS think-tank and a leading pollster.
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,” Kumar said. “This all goes to the advantage of the BJP.”
Also many BJP supporters who had become disillusioned with the party would feel relief, said Bhawesh Jha, founder of CNX, one of India’s largest polling companies. – Reuters.