Pulwama terror attack and how it has changed India in just a year

  • On February 14, 2019, 44 soldiers of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force were killed in a terror attack by a Kashmiri separatist.
  • The attack and its aftermath changed a lot in India, from politics to diplomacy to societal narrative on a whole host of issues that have dogged India for decades.
  • The reverberations of the attack continue to shape the history of South Asia and be part of discussions in the days to come, especially with the scheduled visit of US President Donald Trump to India later this month.
A truck full of explosives plowed into a bus carrying police forces, killing 44 soldiers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), in Pulwama region of Kashmir by a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist, exactly a year ago.

This will remain an important juncture in India’s political history for all that followed due to this act of terror, one that is likely to find mention in the conversations between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump when he visits India later this month.

While the government is about to inaugurate a memorial for the martyrs of the attack, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has not been able to trace where the explosives were sourced from.

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IN the meantime, from further escalation of military and diplomatic conflict between India and Pakistan to the emergence of Wing Commander Abhinandan as a ‘war hero’, from the turning of voter sentiments in favour of Modi to the loss of Kashmir’s ‘special status⁠— the Pulwama terror attack changed a lot in India, and even in Pakistan, which sentenced Hafiz Saeed, the chief of terrorist outfit, to five years in prison and a measly fine of ₹15,000 for his role in the Mumbai terror attack of 2008.

Millitary conflict


FILE PHOTO: AP: An Indian officer from the Indian Central Reserve Police Force shouts slogans during preparations for the upcoming Republic Day parade, near the Presidential Palace in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. Indian marks Republic Day on Jan. 26.

Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi immediately unleashed the country's military against rival Pakistan in response to a terror attack by Muslim separatists. The world was on the edge fearing an escalation of conflict between two countries that are bitter rivals and have nuclear weapons in their arsenal.
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FILE -"I know there is deep anger, your blood boils looking at what has happened. At this moment, there are expectations and the feelings of a strong response which is quite natural," <a href="http://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/news_updates/pms-statement-on-terror-attack-in-pulwama/?comment=disable">Modi said</a> in a speech mourning the police forces killed and those injured. <br />

Abhinandan Varthaman was the war hero, and so was Modi

As much of India bayed for blood, there emerged a war hero, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman of the Indian Air Force. His MIG-21 fighter jet crashed in Pakistan-side of the border and he was captive in enemy territory for over 60 hours. He was released at the behest of Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan⁠— recently elected at the time— as a ‘peace gesture’.

Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa and Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the IAF pilot who became the face of a tense military confrontation between India and Pakistan in February, pose for a photograph after a sortie on the MiG 21 jet, at Airforce Station, Pathankot.Photo)(

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The video of Abhinandan maintaining composure, even accepting tea from enemy soldiers, won over a billion hearts.

Watch the video that viral here:

The tide turned in favour of Modi

At the beginning of 2019, Modi and his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not seem as invincible it did five years ago. The preceding year was forgettable for the BJP, electorally.

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Of the 21 elections that took place in 2018, either for the Parliament or the state assembly, BJP (or its ally) managed to win only two.

MonthElectionParliament Constituency2018 WinnerIncumbent
Jan 2018By-election (Parliament)Alwar, RajasthanCongressBJP
Jan 2018By-election (Parliament)Ajmer, RajasthanCongressBJP
Jan 2018By-election (Parliament)Uluberia, West BengalTrinamool CongressBJP
Feb 2018State AssemblyTripuraCPI(M)BJP
Feb 2018State AssemblyMeghalayaUDP-CongressNDP (BJP ally)
March 2018By-election (Parliament)Gorakhpur, UPSamajwadi PartyBJP
March 2018By-election (Parliament)Phulpur, UPSamajwadi PartyBJP
March 2018By-election (Parliament)Araria, BiharRashtriya Janata DalRashtriya Janata Dal
May 2018State AssemblyNagalandNPFNDPP (BJP ally)
May 2018By-election (Parliament)Kairana, UPRashtriya Lok DalBJP
May 2018By-election (Parliament)Bhandara-Gondiya, MaharashtraNCPBJP
May 2018By-election (Parliament)Palghar, MaharashtraBJPBJP
May 2018By-election (Parliament)NagalandNDPP-BJPNDF
Nov 2018State AssemblyKarnatakaJDS-CongressCongress
Nov 2018State AssemblyChhatisgarhCongressBJP
Nov 2018State AssemblyMadhya PradeshCongressBJP
Nov 2018By-election (Parliament)Bellary, KarnatakaCongressBJP
Nov 2018By-election (Parliament)Mandya, KarnatakaJDSJDS
Nov 2018By-election (Parliament)Shivamogga, KarnatakaBJPBJP
Dec 2018State AssemblyRajasthanCongressBJP
Dec 2018State AssemblyChhatisgarhTRSTRS

So, in early 2019, when political commentators were discussing the possiblity of a hung Parliament in the upcoming general election, the Pulwama terror attack exploded on the Indian political scene. Modi got a chance to revive his image as a strongman who has the guts to respond to Pakistan in kind. Within a month after the attack, opinion polls were giving BJP a clear majority.

The slowing economy and rising unemployment carried no weight when faced with national security as a political issue. And Modi won an even bigger mandate⁠— the one in 2014 was already the best for any party/coalition in 30 years⁠— from Indian voters in 2019 election for the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament.
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This became a golden opportunity for BJP

FILE PHOTO: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, with Home Minister Amit Shah.

When BJP stormed back to power it did not waste any time in picking up issues that other political parties, even BJP governments of the past, won't touch with a ten-foot pole for decades. The election result came in May, and by August 2019— to the surprise of all its rivals— the Modi government decided to suspend the 'special status' given to the Indian state of Kashmir, which has been a hotbed of both rampant separatism— which New Delhi says is sponsored by the government in Islamabad—and the heavy-hand of the Indian forces (in reaction) for decades.

Anchored boats are in seen as sun sets over the Dal Lake on New Year's eve in Srinagar. Months of heightened security, lock-down and internet shutdown, to curb any outrage following the end of Kashmir's special status , has crippled normal life, tourism, and businesses in the valley. (Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

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The revocation of Kashmir's special status was always part of BJP's ideology and election manifesto. But one in their wildest dreams had thought any political party would have the guts to take such a controversial decision. Such a move would bring global criticism as well as local outrage, and it played out the same way.

But such was the size of Modi's mandate— boosted by his government's reaction to the attack in Pulwama— and the depth of the party's strategy, the government has sailed through so far with little or no damage to its image among voters on this issue.

And if that wasn't enough...

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The Modi government's amendment to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the plan to bring in a National Register for Citizens (NRC) has polarised the country further.Photo)(

Within a span of few months, the government's had stirred the hornet's nest that is Kashmir, albeit with adequate preparation, and the Supreme Court had given an order (in favour of the Hindu side) in the biggest communal dispute (between Hindus and Muslims) in the country that has endured a century and more. People feared riots and retribution and while things remained 'under control', no one imagined yet another legislation that would threaten the Muslim demography in the country.

Modi and Shah had decided to flex their muscles again and milk the thumping majority in Parliament they had won, thanks to a renewed wave of support post the Pulwama attack. And BAM! came the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, known by its infamous acronym CAA, and the promise of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Together, it is feared, the CAA and NRC may allow the government to discriminate against, disenfranchise, the Muslims of the country and allow it bring in non-Muslim refugees from neighbouring countries and make them citizens.
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The 24*7 sit-in protest in New Delhi's Shaheen Bagh area, by students, women and children, has become the symbol of a nationwide unrest against the CAA and NRC. The protest is is entering the 60th straight day. Photo/Altaf Qadri)

While, to be fair, these changes were not imagined or initiated by the BJP, its rivals fear is that it could use these laws to change the composition of the voting population in its favour, permanently. This has led to a sharp polarisation of the people in the country with a sizeable number both in favour of and against the CAA and NRC.


Make no mistake, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act has the approval of the Parliament where the BJP is in majority. While the heat against the bill is still substantial, the government isn't stoking the fire with the NRC yet. However, as Home Minister Amit Shah reminded everyone today, "when it happens, everyone will know."
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Meanwhile...

The country is, even families are, divided sharply between those who support Modi's radical decisions and those who do not. The Hindu pride is peaking, and those who like to spew hate against religious minorities do so without consequence, or the fear of it. Far from the fear of getting censured, politicians feel free to provoke violence against dissenters hoping for a reward which may be a BJP candidature or even a constitutional post and the power that comes with it.

FILE PHOTO: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was one of the many BJP leaders who, during the Delhi election campaign in Jan 2020, made provocative speeches against Muslims and those protesting the new citizenship law. He has history of making incendiary speeches even before he was made the head of India's mot -populous state. Photo)(

On the other hand, the economic growth has fallen to the slowest in over six years, manufacturing growth is at its lowest in 11 years, unemployment is high, and so is inflation (a six year high). The entire country seems to be protesting one issue or another, and university students seem the most anxious.
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Pulwama was the turning point

BJP's can push through these controversial decisions, fearlessly, comes from the gigantic strength that it has in the country's Parliament. That strength could have been substantially lower had the attack on the soldiers in Pulwama not taken place. Modi would not have had the opportunity to show his mettle as a leader who can retaliate against Pakistan without the fear of reprimand from global leaders.

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, second left, recently cancelled his scheduled trip to India sparking <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-citizenship-abe/japan-pm-puts-off-visit-after-unrest-in-indian-state-idUSKBN1YH0TO" target="_blank">speculation that it was his way of showing displeasure</a> with the political developments in India. (Yoshitaka Sugawara/Kyodo News via AP)

This will keep coming up

When US President Donald Trump lands in India later this month, he will have a few thoughts on the issue of Kashmir. US Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, have written to Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, for Trump to raise the issue of Kashmir and criticised Modi's action. But Trump, despite holding the world's most powerful political office, is unlikely to express the global consternation to the full extent.

That is becasue Trump and Modi have one thing in common—both do not shy away from singling out 'Islamic terror' and acting against it. They are friends as proven by the mega 'Howdy Modi' event hosted by Trump in Houston last year in September 2019.
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President Donald Trump at the "Howdy Modi: Shared Dreams, Bright Futures" event with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at NRG Stadium, in Houston in Sep 2019. Trump will visit India in Feb 23-24, 2020. Photo(

India, today, would be very different if the Pulwama attack had not happened. Trump and Modi would have discussed other topics, or the same topics in a different context.

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