- Commander who oversaw 2016 surgical strikes backs Congress claim
- Congress had said it too had cleared such strikes before Modi government
- PM, Arun Jaitley had accused Congress of lying
The Indian army had conducted surgical strikes against terrorists across the Pakistan border during the UPA rule too, news agency ANI quoted Lieutenant General (Retd) DS Hooda as saying on Saturday. His comments came hours after the BJP claimed that the Narendra Modi government was the first to take such an initiative.
The retired army officer's assertion is significant, given that he had played a major role in the 2016 surgical strike launched after the Uri terror attack. Last year, he had created a flutter by saying that the operation - while "much needed" from the military point of view - had been "overhyped and politicised". In February, he agreed to head a task force constituted by the Congress to develop a vision document on national security. The party released the document on April 21.
Lieutenant General Hooda's latest comments seem to support the Congress' claim that while as many as six cross-border strikes were conducted between 2004 and 2014, the Manmohan Singh government never publicised the matter. "As has been said by many people and ex-veterans as well, surgical strikes or cross-border operations had been carried out by the Army in the past too. But I am not aware of the exact date and areas," ANI quoted him as telling mediapersons.
He also claimed that the armed forces will not benefit from the politicisation of military operations. "It is not right for any political party to bring the army into the elections, as directed by the Election Commission. It will ultimately cause long-term damage to the institution," Lieutenant General Hooda said.
Earlier today, the BJP had rejected claims of surgical strikes being carried out before Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power. "September 29, 2016, was the first time a surgical strike ever happened. There is no record of surgical strikes before this. This information has been given by the Director General, Military Operations, in an RTI reply," party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said.
"Every Congress leader is giving out different figures for surgical strikes supposedly carried out during the UPA regime. One says it was two, another says it was six, while some others say it was 10. Does the Congress carry out any surgical strike from its office on Akbar Road, 24?" he asked.
Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh also ridiculed the opposition party's claim. "Congress has a habit of lying. Will you please let me know which 'so-called surgical strike' are you attributing to my tenure as COAS (Chief of Army Staff). Am sure you must have hired some Coupta to invent another story," he tweeted.
On Thursday, Congress leader Rajiv Shukla had provided details of the six surgical strikes reportedly conducted under the Manmohan Singh administration. He also claimed that two such military operations were earlier carried out under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
Opposition parties have accused the BJP of politicising the 2016 surgical strike and the Balakot air strikes to drum up votes in violation of poll regulations. They also allege that the Election Commission is going easy on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah despite repeated infractions on their part.
(With inputs from ANI)