National security can become a major issue in the upcoming general election in Himachal Pradesh, where a good number of voters are either ex-servicemen or currently serving in the security forces. Most of these personnel can hold sway in at least three out of the state's four Lok Sabha seats -- Kangra, Hamirpur and Mandi.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is raising the issue of the surgical and airstrikes carried out by the Modi government in its public meetings, while the Congress is reminding the public how a new country, Bangladesh, had been carved out of Pakistan in 1971 during the Indira Gandhi government. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur claimed that the nation was "fully secure" in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's hands.
"When Modi became the prime minister, several of our jawans were killed in Uri. The Army successfully carried out a surgical strike in retaliation under Modi's strong leadership," Thakur said at a public meeting in his home district of Mandi on Friday. "Forty jawans of the CRPF were martyred in the Pulwama attack. Tilak Raj of Kangra was among the martyrs... Our Air Force carried out air strikes within days and destroyed terrorist camps in Pakistan," the BJP leader said.
The chief minister also blamed the previous Congress government of "doing nothing" after the Mumbai terror attack in 2008. Taking a strong exception, Congress leader Mukesh Agnihotri said politics should not be played in the name of the slain soldiers.
Agnihotri said Congress president Rahul Gandhi had already made it clear that the party was full with the government regarding the retaliation to the Pulwama attack. "National security always remains a top priority for the Congress. The BJP leaders should not forget how a new country had come into existence in 1971 when the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government was at the Centre," he added.
Meanwhile, Brigadier (retired) Khushal Thakur, who was the commanding officer of the 18 Grenadiers that captured the strategic peaks during the Kargil conflict, said the defence forces were discharging their duties with bravery and dedication since Independence -- be it surgical strikes, air strikes, wars or insurgency. "Though the defence forces act according to the decision of our elected government, yet politicians should desist from playing politics in the name of the defence forces," said the brigadier, who resides at Nagwain village in Mandi.
According to Khushal Thakur, around 2.5 lakh electors out of more than 50 lakh voters in Himachal Pradesh are either ex-servicemen or serving in the defence forces. As many as 1.30 lakh people are ex-servicemen, whereas 1.20 lakh are serving. Besides, around 2 lakh electors in the state are either serving in various paramilitary forces or are retired, he added.
(With inputs from agencies.)