On revisiting statements made by leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party during the four days that Mumbai reeled under terror attacks in November 2008, it becomes clear that the party is not new to politicising national security. The attack began on the night of 26 November, in a siege that targeted landmark spots in the city, and engaged security forces till the morning of 29 November. On the first day of the attack, the BJP had assured the nation that it stands with the United Progressive Alliance government in the “full-scale war” on India. But within 24 hours thereafter, the BJP reneged on its undertaking and Narendra Modi became the face of the party’s about-turn on the terror attacks.
On 28 November, the BJP launched a campaign against the Congress-led UPA government to exploit the growing public outrage against the Mumbai attacks. Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time, travelled to Mumbai to address the media from outside the Oberoi Trident Hotel—one of the sites of the attacks—and criticised the government’s failure to prevent the attack. Modi’s speech came ahead of two state elections—Delhi and Rajasthan were going to polls on 29 November and 4 December, respectively. That day, the BJP also issued advertisements in national newspapers that harnessed the Mumbai attacks for electoral gains. With a splash of red against a black background—starkly signifying the blood-spilling in Mumbai—the advertisement read, “Brutal Terror Strikes at Will. Weak Government. Unwilling and Incapable. Fight Terror. Vote BJP.”
In the aftermath of the suicide bombing in Pulwama on 14 February, which killed at least 40 Central Reserve Police Force jawans, and the subsequent Indian Air Force strikes near Balakot, a town in Pakistan, the BJP appears to have fallen back into old habits. Several party leaders have referred to the slain CRPF jawans or the air strikes in subsequent public speeches and electoral campaigns for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Yet, when the opposition accused the party of blatantly politicising the sacrifices of the armed forces, Modi and the BJP have fired one volley after another in response, conveniently glossing over the pattern of such conduct in their unseemly past.
On 1 March this year, Modi delivered a speech at Kanyakumari, a coastal town in Tamil Nadu, that illustrates the BJP’s amnesia about its response to the Mumbai attacks. “A few parties, guided by Modi-hatred have started hating India,” Modi said. The Indian government had claimed that the Balakot air strikes destroyed training camps of the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, which had claimed responsibility for the Pulwama bombing. But subsequent ground reports challenged these claims, prompting opposition leaders to ask for proof of the impact of the strikes. Referring to these opposition leaders, Modi added, “They are the same people whose statements are being happily quoted in parliament of Pakistan and in the radio of Pakistan. I want to ask them—do you support our armed forces or suspect them?”