The prime minister reacted following an opposition politician’s suggestion that New Delhi should engage in talks with Islamabad Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) addresses his supporters during a public meeting in Hyderabad on May 10, 2024, ahead of the fourth phase of voting of the country’s general election. © Noah SEELAM / AFP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an interview with India TV amid ongoing polling to elect the next government, claimed that he traveled to Pakistan in 2015 to personally evaluate the country’s capabilities. The comment was in response to criticism from the rival Congress party’s Mani Shankar Aiyar, a former federal minister, who suggested recently that India should “respect” Pakistan as a nation “possessing [the] atom bomb.”

“I personally visited Pakistan to check how powerful it is,” Modi said on Thursday, referring to his surprise stopover in Lahore in 2015 – a year after being elected prime minister for the first time.

Modi recalled that a Pakistani reporter had wondered how he was able to enter Lahore without a visa, to which he replied: “It was my country at some point of time.” When India became independent from Britain in 1947, it was split into two countries on the basis of religion: India and Pakistan.

Modi landed in Lahore on his way back home from Kabul, Afghanistan. During his brief visit, he held meetings with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, and other senior officials.

India denies carrying out assassinations in Pakistan India denies carrying out assassinations in Pakistan

However, ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, which have fought two wars since independence from Britain, have remained in a deep freeze since 2019 – when a terrorist attack in Pulwama, Kashmir killed 40 Indian officers, prompting a military response from the Indian Air Force inside Pakistani territory. That year, the Modi-led government revoked the special status of Kashmir by abolishing Article 370 of the country’s constitution – which Islamabad has called a red line.

The video of senior Congress party leader Aiyar suggesting that Islamabad deserves respect and that New Delhi should engage in dialogue went viral earlier this month, sparking outrage. The Congress party has distanced itself from his remarks.

In the interview with India TV, Modi also commented on allegations that New Delhi is behind targeted assassinations in Pakistan. Last month, The Guardian, citing intelligence sources, claimed that India has assassinated dozens of individuals in Pakistan as part of a strategy to eliminate terrorists living on foreign soil.

“I know, the people of Pakistan are nowadays worried; I also know that I am the root cause of their worries,” Modi said, responding to the allegation. He went on to claim that some people in India are “also worried” about the developments, taking a dig at his political opponents. The prime minister has accused the opposition, led by the Congress, of harboring sympathy for Pakistan.

During an election rally in Gujarat earlier this month, Modi called Congress a “disciple” of Pakistan, and claimed that the neighboring country is eager to see the party’s leader Rahul Gandhi become prime minister of India. His statement came after a former Pakistani minister, Fawad Hussain, tweeted a video of Gandhi and captioned the post “Rahul on fire.”

Modi is eyeing a third term as prime minister. The nation of 1.4 billion people, with around 970 million voters, is currently voting in a seven-phase election to determine the next government. The results will be announced on June 4.

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