What The Congress Should Learn From Modi's Pakistan Policy

16/05/2016 12:31 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
NEW! HIGHLIGHT AND SHARE
Highlight text to share via Facebook and Twitter
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
LAHORE, PAKISTAN - DECEMBER 25: Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif (L) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) in Lahore, Pakistan on December 25, 2015. (Photo by Pakistan Information Department/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Whatever public opinion there may be about the Modi government two years down the line, there is little anger against it for the Pathankot terror attack. There are no angry protests and debates demanding action or war. There’s nobody calling India a weak state or accusing the ruling party of weakening India.

In just a few weeks of a spectacular terrorist attack on an Indian Air Force base, there’s little anger about India-Pakistan relations sounding business as usual. While opposition parties made the Modi government defensive about his degrees, they haven’t been able to force him to defend his Lahore trip just a week before the Pathankot attack.

The two foreign secretaries are shaking hands, talking about the prospect of talks. The Modi government has reversed its high-horse stand on Pakistani diplomats meeting Kashmiri separatists in Delhi. The usual drama about Pakistan investigating the attack is, as expected, going nowhere.

The man on the street might say he’s still waiting for Achhe Din, but he’s not complaining about Pakistan.

modi pakistan

(Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif (L) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) in Lahore, Pakistan on 25 December, 2015.)

Therein lies a tale: public opinion in India doesn’t care much about Pakistan, talks or no talks, and is happy to overlook terrorist attacks, even big ones. Not that this is a new realization. Six months after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the UPA had returned to power with more seats for the Congress party, even though Dr Manmohan Singh was unable to do anything about 26/11. The BJP had made national security in that election, but voters stood by the Congress.

The man on the street might say he’s still waiting for Achhe Din, but he’s not complaining about Pakistan.

The obvious conclusion is that nationalism, even the fear of Pakistan, doesn’t win you elections. Indian voters care about only two things: the money in their pockets (jobs, inflation, economic growth) and a general sense that the government in power has the ability to govern. On both these counts, the second UPA government floundered, and lost the 2014 elections badly. For the same reason, Bharat Mata Ki Jai will not give the BJP an upper hand in 2019. There will be only one election issue in 2019: did Achhe Din arrive yet?

Narendra Modi won a majority in 2014 without speaking much about Pakistan and national security. His main plank was about the cash in our pockets: corruption, black money, inflation, jobs, and development.

The man who famously contested the 2002 post-riot elections in Gujarat against “Mian Musharraf”, was singing a reconciliatory tone in his prime ministerial campaign. India and Pakistan should be allies in the war against poverty, he had said.

modi pakistan

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands during the closing session of the 18th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Katmandu, Nepal, Thursday, 27 November, 2014.

The realisation that Pakistan-bashing or war mongering is not a big issue for Indian voters, should be internalised by us. The most important implication is that any Indian government in power should not overly fear public opinion in taking difficult decisions that involve pursuing conflict resolution. This includes conflict resolution with neighbours, such as Pakistan and China, or internal conflict resolution in Kashmir or the north-east.

If the government can have an Assam Rifles officer arrested for smuggling gold, there is no reason why an army officer can’t be arrested for rape. If the government can lift AFSPA from Tripura, there is no reason why it can’t do so from other places where terrorism is not a threat anymore. The bogey of public opinion in mainland India should be called out.

The realisation that Pakistan-bashing or war mongering is not a big issue for Indian voters, should be internalised by us.

Especially when the Congress is in power, the BJP, its various Hindutva allies and the party’s core constituency makes a lot of noise about Pakistan, terrorism and national security. These are often used to mischievously hint a collusion between Indian Muslims, secularism, secularist parties and Pakistan.

The next time there is a secularist establishment, it should not use the bogey of public opinion to prevent itself from taking initiative to pursue conflict resolution. As for the Hindutva brigade, it can cite the example of Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy, if not Vajpayee’s. If Narendra Modi was allowed to use trial and error as a Pakistan policy, why deny others the privilege?

Narendra Modi’s flip-flop policy towards Islamabad is finally making India-Pakistan relation look like business as usual – the awkward silences between talks, terror, talks are all too familiar.

India is no longer looking like the party that does not want to pursue talks with Pakistan. The onus is again on Pakistan. Given India’s limited options of dealing with a nuclear-armed state that uses terrorism as foreign policy tool, playing the talks game is the best that India can do. That is now the consensus policy on Pakistan, followed by Modi, Manmohan and Vajpayee alike.

More On This Topic