New Delhi: The political slugfest over the number of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists killed in the February 26 Balakot Air Strike saw no end on Monday. While the Congress accused the Narendra Modi-led Centre of politicising the issue for electoral gains, the BJP, on the other hand, claimed that the statements by the Opposition leaders brought smile to Pakistan’s face.

Congress leader and former Union Minister Kapil Sibal questioned the Centre over the anti-terror action by IAF and alleged that there were hardly any casualties in the strike. “When the international media speak against Pakistan, you are “elated”. But when they ask questions (about the airstrike), they are asking because they support Pak?” asked Sibal.

(Also Read: India-Pakistan Standoff: In Touch With Both Countries, Will Continue to Play Constructive Roles to De-escalate Tensions, Says China)

Echoing similar tone, senior Congress leader and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram asked who earmarked the number of casualties as 300 in the attack? He pointed that if the Indian Air Force Vice Air Marshal refused to comment or divulge information on the number of ‘terrorists killed’ in the Indian strike, then how come there are reports of at least 300 casualties?

Meanwhile, Punjab minister and senior Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu asked the Centre to clear the claims regarding the number of terrorists killed in the attack. Joining a chorus of scepticism from Opposition leaders, Sidhu asked, “300 terrorist dead, Yes or No? What was the purpose then? Were you uprooting terrorist or trees? Was it an election gimmick? Deceit possesses our land in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. Stop politicising the Army, it is as sacred as the State.”

Reacting to BJP President Amit Shah’s statement that 250 terrorists were killed, Congress’ Mallikarjun Kharge said, “Nobody is questioning, Modi himself is questioning, he wants to take credit; we support our Army. We shouldn’t learn patriotic lessons from Modi.”

Shah on Sunday said at a rally in Gujarat that nearly 250 terrorists were killed in the Balakot attack carried out by the IAF. “After the Uri attack, the army did a surgical strike. After the Pulwama attack, people said there could not be a surgical strike… But the Modi government carried out an airstrike, and more than 250 terrorists were killed without the IAF suffering any losses,” Shah was quoted as saying at the event.

‘We only calculate targets, not casualties’

Amid the war of words on Monday, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanao attempted to put an end to speculations regarding the number of casualties in anti-terror action. Addressing a press conference, the Air Chief Marshal answered various questions on February 26 Balakot strike, including, why a MiG 21 was used in the engagement. (Also Read: NTRO Surveillance Confirms Finding Around 300 Active Mobile Connections in JeM Balakot Camp Before IAF Strike)

On being asked about the number of casualty, Dhanoa said that it was not their (IAF) job to ascertain the number of casualties, but only to count the targets hit. He added that it was the government’s job to specify the number of casualties.

“We hit our target. The air force doesn’t calculate casualty numbers, the government does that. The IAF is not in a postilion to clarify the number of casualties. The government will clarify that. We don’t count human casualties, we count what targets we have hit or not,” he asserted.

When queried, if Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman would continue to fly, Dhanoa said that the matter depends on his fitness level. “That’s why post-ejection, he has undergone a medical check. Whatever treatment required, will be given. Once we get his medical fitness, he will get into a fighter cockpit,” he stated.

Dhanoa also dismissed the claims that MiG 21 Bison was an old aircraft. He said that the fighter jet was used because “it is a capable aircraft, it has been upgraded, it has better radar, air-to-air missiles and better weapons system”. He added, “One is a planned operation in which you plan and carry out. But when an adversary does a strike on you, every available aircraft goes in, irrespective of which aircraft it is. All aircraft are capable of fighting the enemy.”

However, Dhanoa refused to comment on the current situation of border and said that the operation is “still ongoing”.

PM Modi slams Opposition

On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi slammed the Opposition for ‘asking for proof’ of the Balakot airstrike and ‘indirectly demoralising the armed forces’. At the Sankalp rally in Patna, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that Opposition was demanding evidence of Indian Air Force-led ‘pre-emptive air strikes’ in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Balakot- thereby pleasing Islamabad.

“The constituents of ‘ Maha-adulteration ‘ live just for their selfishness, no one cares for them. If there is “great adulteration” in the country, there would not be judgment nor welfare of the poor. The tendency of these people is to develop, not to develop the country,” PM Modi added.

About IAF Strike: 

On February 26, India avenged the Pulwama Terror Attack by carrying out a ‘pre-emptive and non-military’ strike on Pakistan’s soil. The strike is said to have killed nearly 300 terrorists. The following day, Islamabad made a failed an attempt to target military installations in India in which one MiG 21 was lost and an IAF pilot went “missing in action”. However, the pilot was brought back from Pakistan on Friday.