Why did Modi cancel talks with Pakistan?
This question has always been there right from the beginning: will Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walk the talk? Will his huge electoral mandate be able to transform a Hindu sectarian leader into a national statesman? Will the early promises of out-of-the-box thinking usher in a new era of development in the Pakistan-India relationship?
The rhetoric never matches with reality. Words don’t match actions. Oratory is not a substitute for a vision. Modi has all the germs to be a great sectarian leader. He has proved time and again that he lacks the gene to be a leader that suits India’s mood and temperament.
The decision to cancel the foreign secretary level talks between India and Pakistan demonstrate this very clearly, not only the limitation of the new Indian leadership but also a limited mind-set that is going to determine the future bilateral relationship.
It has been more than a decade since Pakistan’s been holding parleys with separatist leaders from Kashmir. New Delhi based Pakistani envoy’s engagement with the Kashmiri leaders of all hues is not new or unknown. If New Delhi accepts that the Kashmir is the main issue between India and Pakistan, then it should have no problem if the Islamic Republic cultivates friendship with the separatist leaders. There have been so many instances in the past where Indian leadership has sent olive branches to these separatist leaders in the valley and held discussions with them to find a way out of the Kashmir imbroglio.
In Kashmir valley, Hurriyat leaders are not an enlightening force and not the voice of the mainstream Kashmiris; they have always been fringe elements and could not establish popular support in the state due to their extremist religious ideology and their proximity with the fundamentalist group, Jamaat-e-Islami.
The problem is not the separatists in Kashmir but the sectarian elements and mind-set in the Hindu right wing; Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party in Delhi. They look at Kashmir from the prism of religion and see the people of the state as Hindus and Muslims. Therefore, they react very strongly when Muslim separatist leaders meet at the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi. By attacking Hurriyat leaders, the BJP is, in effect, targeting the special status enjoyed by Kashmir in Indian constitution. This has long been the project of Hindu radical forces and the cancellation of talks with Pakistan is aimed at this.
Contrary to popular perception, Modi’s government’s decision to call off the foreign secretary level talks sends a strong message to Pakistan. New Delhi’s move, however, is aimed at sending a very strong signal to its own hard-core Hindu constituency in Jammu and Kashmir, the state which is going to polls in a few months’ time. It is, therefore, not a foreign policy move but a local political move aimed at winning particular vote banks.
The larger repercussion of this move is that the worldview of the Indian masses gets further narrowed vis-à-vis Pakistan. An evolved leadership prepares his people to think in terms of long term national interest. Modi has a mandate to take a risk and make a leap in the future but he is the by-product of hard-core Hindu sectarian ideology and his politics, throughout, have been guided by that principle. In its quest to gain power in Delhi, the BJP leader, liberally might I add, used hard-core majoritarian agendas and agents to advance his political cause. He unleashed a string of leaders and cadres all across the country who view liberal values as anathema. His relationship with Muslims in India has been, at best, adversarial and, therefore, to expect him to show a large heartedness and political vision to deal with an Islamic Pakistan would be expecting too much from a limited leader.
Can the BJP regime display the same attitude in dealing with China?
Beijing has been issuing stapled visa to the people of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh for quite some time, it has been doing the same kind of ceasefire violation as Pakistan has, allegedly, been carrying out. Can New Delhi suspend the talks with the communist regime and show spine?
There is no doubt that the repercussion of this reactionary move, by Delhi, is going to be felt in Islamabad as well. The narrative of peace that got a new impetus after Modi’s invitation to Nawaz Sharif for his attendance at the premier’s swearing-in ceremony stands debunked. The huge peace constituency, and friends of India, stand discredited in the eyes of hardliners who have always been sceptical of Modi’s political personality.
India, as an integral neighbour, needs to show greater confidence and acumen in reaching out to a neighbour where religious extremist forces survive on the oxygen of anti-India rhetoric. Modi, by his petulance, has jeopardised the political interests of a business-friendly prime minister of Pakistan. By not demonstrating a greater diplomatic gesture to its western neighbour, New Delhi is showing its own narrow worldview; it reveals how short-sighted we are in our ambition to emerge as a player at the international level.
The larger implication is that the new generation of Indians who supported Modi with the hope of a new India do not get a chance to evolve under an enlightened leadership. Their worldview, vis-à-vis Pakistan, remains as shallow as before. The media has its own role in perpetuating this narrow worldview, and a majority of think tanks and their mandarins are just too hawkish to think ahead of time and tenure.
The whole episode also tells another story; it shows how Modi is the prisoner of his own image and ideology. He is so conscious of his image that he cannot think of making any unpopular decision, a decision which goes against his Hindu sectarian narrative. He cannot think of antagonising Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu radical organisation from which the BJP derives its ideology, and from where Modi has graduated.
The unfortunate part of today’s India is that political leadership of the nation is in the hands of an individual who does not think himself as a democrat but as a monarch. He believes in concentrating all the power and wisdom of governance in his own hands. He reminds us, at times, of the medieval king, Muhammad bin Tughlaq, who was eccentric and popularly known for almost transferring India’s capital from Delhi to Daulatabad, before changing his decision midway. Modi is behaving in the same way without realising the long term impact of his whimsicality.
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