Talking with a different Modi

Early this month, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said he thinks that there may be a better chance of peace talks with India and that “some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached” if the BJP wins this general election. This suggests that Mr. Khan, who is considered to be close to the guardians of the Pakistani state, possesses the ‘mandate’ to redraw borders and expects the leader of the BJP to have a similar mandate from the people after the election.


Attempts at rapprochement

Over several decades, India and Pakistan have fought wars, derided each other at international fora, and squandered away a few attempts at rapprochement. Yet this formulation of hard-line adversaries being able to arrive at genuine peace between the two countries is a tantalising possibility. There is proof from other countries of bitter adversaries being the best peacemakers. In 1972, the conservative U.S. President Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing to meet Chairman Mao Zedong brought to an end years of tension between the U.S. and China. The most important consequence of the rapprochement was that the two Koreas agreed to reunification as a principle. And in February 1979, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as External Affairs Minister, revived India-China relations that had gone into a chill since the 1962 war. In 2001, Vajpayee, this time as Prime Minister, was reportedly on the brink of arriving at a resolution of the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at the Agra Summit.

These examples show that conservatives can bring about peace. While at the Agra Summit, where a master politician like Vajpayee might have seen an opportunity to make an impact on the history of the subcontinent (only to have it scuttled by his arch-rival, yet fellow right-wing stalwart L.K. Advani), Nixon’s attempt was not focussed on making peace with China’s ideology; it was an attempt to de-escalate tensions.


A different Modi

Expecting de-escalation of tensions from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, if he is voted back to power, would be different though. Mr. Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore in December 2015 to wish his then-Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on his birthday. Will he be inclined to do the same on Mr. Khan’s birthday this year? If Mr. Modi returns to power after this election campaign, which has been filled with invocations of Pulwama and Balakot, then it would be on the anti-Pakistan plank. In 2014, Mr. Modi wanted to be the leader who gave an opportunity to a recalcitrant neighbour. A re-elected Mr. Modi might not be in the need for such gestures. His ideological predilections will dissuade him as well. Besides, at the core of the Modi phenomenon has been his uncompromising persona. His appeal is to a core base that is of his own making and not necessarily that of the RSS-BJP combine. The base he appeals to believes in bravado and machismo.

Arriving at peace

Mr. Modi has most often not felt the need to intervene and assuage the country on many issues that have been highly divisive. On the Gujarat riots in 2002, he compared his feelings to an occupant of a car involved in an accident. The travails of the people post-demonetisation and the poor implementation of the Goods and Services Tax were not even addressed, forget an apology being tendered. If that is the risk he was willing to take as Prime Minister in his first term, a rejuvenated Mr. Modi might even have the confidence to talk of the recreation of an Akhand Bharat. In the dream of Akhand Bharat, how can there be any compromise on a territorial dispute? There will be a collapse of many territories in such a dream and hence no territorial dispute to compromise on.

Mr. Khan might want the BJP back in power, but he will have to contend with a different Prime Minister Modi, if the latter does return. If there has to be durable peace in the subcontinent, the leaders who occupy high office should arrive at peace on the strength of political mandates that enjoin them to make peace.

Subhash Rai is Digital Editor, The India Forum.

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 9:50:56 PM |

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