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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
The video of Abhinandan maintaining composure, even accepting tea from enemy soldiers, won over a billion hearts.
Watch the video that viral here:
Finally, Our #IAF officer Abhinandan Varthaman is safe and in high spirits, sipping tea , and praising his Pakist… https://t.co/nQVdU8G7lV— Anujeet Shivam (@anujitshivam) 1551285543000
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.
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.
|Month||Election||Parliament Constituency||2018 Winner||Incumbent|
|Jan 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Alwar, Rajasthan||Congress||BJP|
|Jan 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Ajmer, Rajasthan||Congress||BJP|
|Jan 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Uluberia, West Bengal||Trinamool Congress||BJP|
|Feb 2018||State Assembly||Tripura||CPI(M)||BJP|
|Feb 2018||State Assembly||Meghalaya||UDP-Congress||NDP (BJP ally)|
|March 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Gorakhpur, UP||Samajwadi Party||BJP|
|March 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Phulpur, UP||Samajwadi Party||BJP|
|March 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Araria, Bihar||Rashtriya Janata Dal||Rashtriya Janata Dal|
|May 2018||State Assembly||Nagaland||NPF||NDPP (BJP ally)|
|May 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Kairana, UP||Rashtriya Lok Dal||BJP|
|May 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Bhandara-Gondiya, Maharashtra||NCP||BJP|
|May 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Palghar, Maharashtra||BJP||BJP|
|May 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Nagaland||NDPP-BJP||NDF|
|Nov 2018||State Assembly||Karnataka||JDS-Congress||Congress|
|Nov 2018||State Assembly||Chhatisgarh||Congress||BJP|
|Nov 2018||State Assembly||Madhya Pradesh||Congress||BJP|
|Nov 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Bellary, Karnataka||Congress||BJP|
|Nov 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Mandya, Karnataka||JDS||JDS|
|Nov 2018||By-election (Parliament)||Shivamogga, Karnataka||BJP||BJP|
|Dec 2018||State Assembly||Rajasthan||Congress||BJP|
|Dec 2018||State Assembly||Chhatisgarh||TRS||TRS|
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.
This became a golden opportunity for BJP
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.
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...
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.
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."
@AmitShah #TimesNowSummit | Home Minister @AmitShah: We have not taken any decision on NRC. If we take any decision… https://t.co/qCOtGyKD88— Mirror Now (@MirrorNow) 1581599981000
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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