New Delhi, Jan. 14: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today called up Opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley on the beheading of the Indian soldier, seeking to address a rising tide of rhetoric marked by Sushma’s vow to bring back “10 heads” for one.
The Prime Minister told the two BJP leaders that national security adviser Shivshankar Menon would brief them tomorrow on the issue.
The move is being seen as part of the government’s effort to defuse the controversy before it becomes another lightning rod for a show of explosive protest in the capital or in some other part of the country. The BJP is already asking why the Prime Minister is not addressing the country, though he chose to do so in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape.
The government has been showing restraint since the beheading but the middle-class mood appears to be in favour of an ill-defined “tough action” being proposed by some commentators.
The rhetoric assumed a shriller tone today with Sushma declaring that “the country will take its revenge. We will teach Pakistan a lesson. They took one head, we will bring back 10 heads”.
Sushma was speaking after meeting Dharamvati, the widow of the beheaded soldier Hem Raj, and is known for being carried away on such emotional occasions.
However, she is also the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, one of the most responsible positions in the country, and if such statements gain traction, the government will come under intense pressure to take some action.
The Prime Minister’s calls followed a few hours after Sushma’s statement near Mathura — an indication of the government’s eagerness to defuse the situation at the earliest. By then, the Indian Army chief also used tough words, warning of retaliation by commanders on the ground near the LoC.
“The objective of tomorrow’s briefing is to persuade the Opposition leaders not to politicise the matter and not to make it an issue of fractious public debate,” a government source said.
The BJP delegation that called on the slain soldier’s family had tried to squeeze out every drop of emotion. The party team included president Nitin Gadkari, Sushma and Rajnath Singh.
Rajnath suggested putting on hold the confidence-building measures and Track II diplomacy until Pakistan “mended” itself. “Cricket and Bollywood cannot ensure good relations. Despite our best efforts, Pakistan does not want good relations and does a heinous act like this, flouting the Geneva Convention,” he said.
Rajnath alleged that the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government had not given “due respect” to Hem Raj. “No senior representatives were present during his last rites. It is an irony that the governments could not give respect to a martyr but are forthcoming with their sympathies when a terrorist is arrested,” he added.
The BJP is also spreading word about how its Madhya Pradesh government had cremated the other slain jawan, Sudhakar, with state honours.
Sudhakar hailed from Madhya Pradesh. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and his cabinet colleagues attended the last rites, after which Chauhan announced Rs 15 lakh for the family, a government job for Sudhakar’s wife and a plot to build a home.
The Madhya Pradesh gesture found resonance in Uttar Pradesh when Pradeep Mathur, the Mathura MLA belonging to the Congress, had to flee the village on Friday after residents asked him why the Centre had “undermined” Hem Raj’s sacrifice.
The Mathura MP, Jayant Chaudhary of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, was rebuffed by Hem Raj’s family. On Sunday, he had tried in vain to coax the wife and mother to give up their fast.
The events have landed the Congress in a dilemma. Party spokesperson Rashid Alvi today betrayed the unenviable position: he asserted that the Indian Army was ready to retaliate and, in the next breath, advised everyone not to lose the sense of balance in anger and excitement (“Josh mein hosh na khoyen”).
Minutes after flexing muscles, Alvi added: “We are followers of Gandhi and we believe in solving disputes in a non-violent manner.”
Congress leaders explained that the party had to identify with the outrage expressed by the people but it certainly did not support the clamour for revenge or war.