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Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today (Tuesday, March 5) said there were no official figures of casualties in the Indian Air Force (IAF) air strike on Jaish-e-Mohammad terror training camp at Balakot in Pakistan.

Her statement comes a day after Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa said the IAF counts the number of targets hit, not the number of those killed, and that the designated targets had been destroyed.

Before Sitharaman, Union Minister of State SS Ahluwalia had said, “By dropping the bomb at your doorstep, we are trying to send across a message that we are capable of destruction. This is what was required.”

Rejecting media reports that claimed 300 terrorists were killed in last week’s airstrikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot, Ahluwalia said that neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi or BJP Amit Shah had confirmed the number of casualties. “I’ve followed both the Indian and international media. I’ve listened to PM Modi as well. After the airstrikes, PM Modi had delivered a speech. Did he say that 300 people were killed? Did any BJP spokesperson confirm this? Did Amit Shah say any such thing?”

PM Modi didn’t, but Amit Shah went on to say over 250 terrorists were killed in last week’s air strike in Balakot.

“The foreign secretary gave the statement; that is the figure,” Sitharaman said, referring to the briefing by Vijay Gokhale the day the air strikes took place.

Gokhale had addressed a press conference hours after the strike, giving the first official government reaction on it. He had said that several Jaish leaders, commanders and trainers were killed, but had not given an exact figure.

The ministry statement said: “…The strike was based on very credible intelligence information that JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed) was planning terror strikes across India. That made this strike absolutely necessary. It was a non-military, pre-emptive strike.”

While her statement about casualties contradicts BJP chief Amit Shah’s claim of 250 killed, Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh came to his party bosses rescue. Asked why BJP chief Amit Shah claimed 250 terrorists were killed, VK Singh said, “That was based on people who were housed in the buildings which were hit, it’s an estimate. He is not saying this is a confirmed figure, he is saying this many might have died.”

Sitharaman also sought to silence speculations on the air strike coming in an election year. “There is no relationship between the air strike and elections. It was based on intelligence inputs on terrorist activities in Pakistan, to be unleashed against India. It was not a military action,” she said.

Politics on Balakot, led by PM Modi

The opposition has been battering the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of politicising the air strike.

Modi, who has continued to address public meetings all through the developments in the days after the Pulwama attack on Feb 14, has kept his speeches focused on his government’s ‘strong’ response to terror, attacking his opponents for ‘politicising’ the air strike, ‘demoralising the troops’ and ‘helping Pakistan’.

Addressing a gathering at Dhar in Madhya Pradesh today, Modi said, “We have told them (Pakistan), if they don’t improve, they know what will happen to them. India gave a befitting reply to Pulwama attack by entering the den of terrorists.”

Targeting the Congress, Modi said, “Party which ruled our country for decades is now questioning the ability of our brave forces, especially a leader from MP. Today he said Pulwama terror attack is an accident. This is their mentality, he is the same person who gave Pakistan a clean chit during 26/11.”

Amit Shah similarly said at a public meeting in Ahmedabad on Monday, “After Uri, our forces went into Pakistan and carried out surgical strikes. They avenged the death of our soldiers. After Pulwama, everyone thought there could be no surgical strikes, what will happen? But under (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s leadership, the government carried out an air strike after the 13th day and killed more than 250 terrorists.”

Two days ago, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath gave a large portion of his speech on the Balakot air strike at a BJP rally at Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s constituency of Amethi,  where PM Modi and Sitharaman announced a defence corridor to manufacture a modern derivative of the AK-47 assault rifle in collaboration with a Russian firm.

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