Lonely journey

Modi and Pakistan policy

Lonely journey

Two months ago, Modi quietly received a Pakistani emissary with longstanding credentials of being an establishment figure.

 At an early stage, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi had it all worked out that he would have to be Janus-faced when it comes to India-Pakistan relations, which would be his single biggest foreign-policy challenge. Modi’s campaign is multi-vectored and it necessitated making contrarian pledges and contradictory posturing. The rhetoric is strident — and, perhaps, more so than ever before — and the main templates of the BJP’s election campaign would devolve upon the Hindutva ideology, which involved bringing in at some point the Indian Muslim and, in turn, the ‘unfinished business’ of the Partition.

Modi figured out that rhetoric should not make him prisoner if indeed he became prime minister and got on to piloting national policies. So, he kept himself to the ‘secular’ heights, focusing oratorical skill on three planks, namely, an all-out attempt to discredit and humiliate the Nehru family and its so-called ‘dynastic politics’; a no-holds-barred condemnation of the UPA government; and, thirdly, the brash projection of his “Gujarat model” as the way forward for India. That is to say, Modi studiously looked away from the campaign rhetoric surrounding Hindutva ideology. He left it to rabble-rousers to work on that front, who have a proven record of polarising the electorate. Call it acquiescence, connivance or collaboration – but it was not neglect on Modi’s part that he didn’t rein in Amit Shah or Pravin Togadia.

Does Pakistan understand the enormity of what is happening in Indian politics? To my mind, it sure does and it has fair comprehension of where the mainsprings of Modi’s mandate would lie. Pakistan will never confuse Modi with Atal Behari Vajpayee. This is one thing.

However, Pakistan also sees a likely need arising to deal with a Modi government. As far back as two months ago, before the electoral battle was joined in the Hindi belt, Modi quietly received a Pakistani emissary with longstanding credentials of being an establishment figure. How far the visitor from Karachi represented the ‘Pakistani establishment’ or to what extent prime minister Nawz Sharif invested confidence in him is hard to tell. What is relevant is that the envoy had diplomatic acumen to carry back impressions and assessments, which in turn made it possible for Modi to depute an emissary or two – with equal acumen – to travel to Pakistan a few weeks later.Modi could see early enough that it was useful to calm Pakistani nerves.

 It is improbable he went beyond holding out goodwill. All the same, a tantalising question arises. India’s Election Commission has not prescribed conduct rules that during the period of general election, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research & Analysis Wing close shop and stop feeding political masters. Whatever ‘back channel’ worked between the bosses in Gandhinagar/Ahmedabad and Lahore/Islamabad would have been known to Indian intelligence in real time. It’s as simple as that.

That’s how the facts of life are when it comes to India-Pakistan relations or Kashmir problem. Which, in turn, brings us to the foreign-policy consensus in India regarding relations with Pakistan. Suffice to say, just as Congress did nothing to subvert Atal Behari Vajpayee’s initiatives on Pakistan, it remained mute witness to Modi’s moves so far.

This is where Indian pundits go haywire to assume Modi is all set to make radical departure in India’s policies toward Pakistan. The heart of the matter is that Modi will run into the very same hurdles and will be as hard-pressed to take a leap of faith as PM Manmohan Singh was, while facing the combined onslaught of rightwing nationalism, ‘salami tactic’ of our security and military establishment and self-styled experts – and of course Modi’s own camp, the formidable Sangh Parivar.

Our pundits fancy that Pakistan would feel more ‘comfortable’ in dealing with a BJP government than a Congress government. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that. On the other hand, make no mistake that relations with India constitute an existential issue for Pakistan. It’s no soap opera of ‘feel-good’ theatrics. Besides, memory mixes with desire here, and it cannot easily be sequestered from the tragedy of the Indian Muslim. The prism through which Pakistan views a Modi government simply cannot be the same prism of the past decade or two. Modi is, let us say, different.

So, the bottom line is, not what Pakistan can do for Modi, but how far Modi would go to reach a Siachen settlement. Our pundits who revel in Antony-baiting see our soft-spoken defence minister as the spoiler of a potential Siachen settlement. If Gen V K Singh serves in a Modi government, he would any day outbid any Indian in his visceral rejection of a Siachen withdrawal. Because, that is the hardline stance of the Indian security and defence establishment whose opinion he’d embody in a position of authority.

In sum, Modi needs to learn from Manmohan Singh’s bitter experience. Except through a virtual renaissance of the BJP and a complete marginalisation of the Sangh Parivar in the crafting of national policies, there are serious limits to what Modi can achieve in settling India-Pakistan differences. So, it isn’t doable? No, it’s doable. But, for moving forward with Pakistan, Modi needs to drink from the chalice of poison – do something as outrageous as begging Jaswant Singh to return with the solemn promise to give him a carte blanche to clear the weeds and boulders on the path leading to Pakistan. But then, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar won’t remain the same again, either.

There are instances in modern history when leaders transform once they become statesmen and proceed to break shackles of the past. Willy Brandt, Deng Xiaoping, Mikhail Gorbachev – but the list tapers off, because it is indeed a very lonely journey to become a man of history.

(The writer is a former diplomat)

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