Pollsters say criticism of Indian PM may backfire
Pakistan names pilots it says shot down Indian warplanes last week
Indian opposition parties are launching a united attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for what they see as his politicisation of the armed forces as he tries to ride a patriotic wave into a second term in office at a general election.
It is a high-risk bet that could backfire given the jingoistic fervour that has overtaken India since a suicide bomber from the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) killed 40 paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir on February 14.
Pollsters say opposition parties may be making a mistake by questioning Modi on national security instead of focusing on more basic issues, such as a shortage of jobs and farmers' distress. Voters concerned about those issues ousted Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in three state elections late last year.
But amid mounting doubts about the success of an Indian air strike on an alleged JeM camp in Pakistan's northeast on February 26, the opposition sees Modi as potentially vulnerable over both the government's claims and its behaviour.
"The opposition is coordinating this and talking to each other every day," said Derek O'Brien, a lawmaker from the West Bengal-based All India Trinamool Congress, the third-biggest opposition party in the lower house of parliament.
"The strategy is to first keep exposing them and bringing out the fact that they are trying to appropriate the armed forces. And two, we show that this is being done purely for election purposes."
O'Brien was referring to Modi speaking at a rally with the pictures of the paramilitary police killed in the bombing in the background, as well as a BJP leader in Delhi attending a public event in army fatigues.
The BJP denies the accusations that it's misusing the armed forces for political benefit, reported Reuters.
Meanwhile, Pakistan yesterday for the first time named the pilots it says shot down two Indian warplanes last week, reported AFP.
"Two Indian planes were shot down by Pakistan air force on February 27," Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told parliament yesterday.
He named them as Squadron Leader Hassan Siddiqui and Wing Commander Nauman Ali Khan, saying he wanted to "pay tribute" to them both.