Even as the Modi government steadily dialled down its rhetoric on the Indian Army operation in Myanmar, questions are now being raised over just how much the mission achieved.

The death toll from the strike has been kept under wraps since news of the operation broke. The official Indian Army press release made no mention of the number of militants who were killed in the attack, sticking instead to a cryptic phrase, ‘ significant casualties’. News reports pegged the death toll anywhere between 20 to 50, with some hinting that it was as high as 100.

PTI imagePTI image

PTI image

However, the Hindustan Times (report only in print) quoted the NSCN-K which claims that it has suffered no casualties and had even hosted a party for those involved in the Manipur attack on the Indian Army’s soldiers on 4 June in which 18 were killed.

The report also pointed out that the special forces weren’t expected to keep a tally of the number of dead in an operation and the estimate of the death toll is based on a general assessment and on radio intercepts following the attack.

The Indian Army, which usually documents such strikes within the country with photographic evidence, hasn’t made any available yet. In fact, the only photos that have circulated on the internet were first refuted by the army, but officials later said that the photos  were cleared by the Army, but were not of the operation, but rather were released only for ‘representational purposes’.

An Indian Express report now quotes sources as saying that so far only seven bodies have been recovered, while less than a dozen militants were injured in the attack. And despite the government’s claims that the operation was meant as retaliation for the Manipur attack, it may not have taken down those who were actually involved in the 4 June attack, the report says quoting a unnamed senior military intelligence official.

One of the camps targeted reportedly was led by a top NSCN militant identified as Niki Sumi but he and an estimated 40 other militants are suspected to have left before the Indian soldiers struck, the report quotes an official as saying.

The report also quotes the military intelligence official as saying that the camps may have been chosen due to tactical viability and more with the intent of sending a message to militant groups rather than specifically striking back at the perpetrators of the Manipur attack.

After the initial round of praise for the Indian Army and the Prime Minister, even ministers in the Modi government have begun sniping against Minister of State Rajyavardhan Rathore, whose statements have largely sparked backlash from Pakistan and Myanmar over the operation.

“Rathore should have not spoken like that…what was the need?” an unnamed senior minister was quoted as telling the Economic Times. 

Another ministerial colleague pointed out that the reaction from the Myanmar government denying the attack took place on its soil was understandable given impending elections and India should have been more cautious in its statements following the incident.

After the initial bluster following the operation, the Modi government has steadily dialed down the rhetoric. As noted earlier, the statements made by Rathore have steadily been downplayed by his ministerial colleagues as they attempt to ensure that India’s relations with Myanmar don’t suffer further and impede other operations in the future.

The Modi government may have gone all out to capture the public sentiment with an operation would highlight a newly aggressive and confident Indian military. But as doubts over the efficacy of the operation are raised, the greatest collateral damage may have been inflicted on the government itself.

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Who died? How many? Sticky questions cast unflattering shadow over India’s Myanmar strike