A universal pattern in times of war is for normal, everyday politics to freeze. Combatants in that arena cease their usual hostilities and join their collective forces in the service of a higher cause. But then, as the famous aphorism by Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz goes, “War is the continuation of politics by other means”. And these are not usual times in India. In the tense aftermath of IAF fighter jets flying across the LoC for their dramatic pre-dawn strike on February 26, both government and opposition, in action and word, exhibited a strong awareness of how it would or could affect the coming elections. Whether or not hostilities on the border skim closer to or extend beyond India’s election calendar—the formal opening ceremony is slated for this week, when the EC is to announce the poll dates—be sure that it has affected the electoral rhetoric for good.
Judge it on both sides. Just hours after the air strike, a triumphant Prime Minister Narendra Modi swore upon India’s soil and said “the nation is in safe hands”. He was addressing a rally of ex-servicemen at Churu, Rajasthan, a state the BJP lost to the Congress in the recent assembly polls. With pictures of the 40 CRPF personnel martyred in Pulwama forming the backdrop, Modi once again recited the poem that he first did in 2014, soon after becoming PM. The mood was upbeat as chants of “Modi, Modi” rent the air. The PM himself, prudently, avoided a direct reference to the air strike—stopping short of overtly politicising it. No such sense of propriety or protocol bound former Karnataka CM B.S. Yediyurappa. The air strike will help the BJP mop up 22 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, he explained with a touching lack of artifice.