In a press conference earlier in the day, the principal opposition party’s chief spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala, charged Prime Minister Narendra Modi of having chai and samosa in the Jim Corbett national park when the Pulwama suicide bomber struck the CRPF convoy on Jammu-Srinagar highway, claiming lives of 40 of our brave soldiers in the Vallentine’s Day massacre of February 14.
Speaking to top echelons of the government, including at least two persons who were part of the PM’s travel team that day brings out a very different picture of Narendra Modi’s post attack response, from the one that Surjewala would want his audience to believe. In total four persons have been spoken to before piecing together this detail.
As per the press release of Jammu and Kashmir police of the day (February 14), the attack happened at 3:15 pm. As media started flashing the information, the PMO in Delhi started gathering more details, even as agencies scrambled for first response. The Prime Minister was supposed to travel to Rudrapur in Udham Singh Nagar district of Uttarakhand to address a BJP rally and was running late. By the time first contact was established at 3:45 pm and the Prime Minister informed, he had already reached the Corbett guest house. He immediately cancelled the rally and got on with supervising the government response to the emerging tragedy. From 4:00 pm to 4:45 pm, the PM continuously worked the phones, passing instructions and gathering more information from the makeshift PMO at the guest house.
Before starting from Corbett, the PM made a token address to BJP workers at the rally venue over the phone, and left by road for Ramnagar, nearest town outside the national park area where a helipad is available. While the original plan was to travel to Ramnagar by road – a distance of 86 kilometers – and take a chopper Rudrapur, the time spent at the guest house supervising the situation meant that by the time PM’s party reached Ramnagar at around 6:15 pm, it was already dark and the SPG ruled out a chopper flight at that hour.
It is here that the Prime Minister took matters in his hands and instructed his security detail to be taken to Bareilly, the nearest airport by road – a distance of about 160 kilometers and more than three hours on a bad road. The PM took this journey despite SPG’s objections so that he could reach Delhi for closer supervision of India’s response to the most dastardly terror strike from Pakistan in recent times. By the time Modi landed in Delhi, more than two dozen nations had responded condemning the Pulwama attack. All this could not have possibly happened on an auto-pilot as the Congress party would have the public believe.
Next day, February 15th, the PM carried on with all but political engagements, flagging off the Vande Bharat Express train in Delhi, and launching a couple of development projects in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh. The idea, sources inform, was to send a message to the enemy that if the intention was derail India’s forward march, and destabilize the thinking that goes with it, the contrary would be achieved. Similar stand was taken for example by France when faced with a major terror attack in Paris just ahead of the major climate change conference, the Cop-21 in 2015. Paying homage to the victims of the attack at the launch of the Vande Bharat Express, he said that no one can ever slow the pace of India’s forward march. Offering condolences to the families of the martyrs in Jhansi, the Prime Minister said he had given a free hand to the armed forces, and that the nation was confident of the valour and bravery of its soldiers. Meant to fox the enemy, it seems the deliberate ‘picture of normalcy’ being projected by the Modi government has ended up outwitting the Congress instead