Narendra Modi's Pakistan visit - eagerly labelled as a 'birthday surprise' for Nawaz Sharif - has taken the Indian political circles by a fair amount of shock too. While there was support from some unlikely quarters, his political opponents carped about the motives behind the visit and the reason it was kept a 'secret'.
The Indian Express reported on the 'idea' behind the surprise meeting: "The central idea, they said, was to signal that every meeting — even at the highest level — is not a summit, every meeting doesn’t have to have an “outcome,” and Modi wanted to “demystify” the process. This, sources said, was also meant to undermine “pressure groups and hawks within, especially in the media, who raise the pitch on any meeting.”
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said Modi has acted like a statesman in deciding to visit Pakistan and this is how relations with neighbours should be.
"That's like a statesman. Padosi se aise hi rishte hone chahiyen (This is how it should be with neighbours)," Swaraj said on twitter to the news of Modi's visit to Lahore to meet his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
That's like a statesman. Padosi se aise hi rishte hone chahiyen. https://t.co/dM26am9tWf
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) December 25, 2015
The PM's idea of demystification struck the right notes with some political leaders, even belonging to opposition parties. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today said New Delhi's engagement with Pakistan is a good step. However, he also called for consistency instead of 'grand gestures'.
"The re-engagement with Pakistan is a good step and a very welcome development. However, more than grand gestures we need consistency," Abdullah said.
However, he decided to be primarily optimistic about the visit. He expressed the hope that the two Prime Ministers will address the lack of consistency in the diplomatic relations between the countries and also address the knee jerk reactions of the past.
"Indo-Pak relations have been plagued by knee-jerk reactions and a lack of consistency. Looking towards to the two PMs to correct this time," he wrote on Twitter.
Abdullah's colleagues too seem to be echoing his optimism. "It is a welcome step, first the NSA level talks, then foreign secretary and then foreign minister level talks and now the Prime Minister visiting Pakistan, this indicates a forward movement towards structural dialogue," National Conference provincial President Devender Singh Rana told PTI.
He said that dialogue (between the two countries) was always welcome, "It is only through a sustained, consistent and meaningful dialogue between India and Pakistan that can lead to peace in the region."
Congress, on the other hand, was more keen on seeking an 'explanation' from the PM over the alleged volte face on the Pakistan issue.
"The Prime Minister needs to explain to the Nation what made him take such a U-turn on the stated position of India that talks and terror cannot go together," Chief spokesman of Jammu and Kashmir Congress Ravinder Sharma said.
He added that the foreign policy of the Modi government regarding Pakistan was totally confusing.
"Rather the things have gone from bad to worse from the Pakistan side as regard to the ceasefire violation and terror activities ...and it continues to be in denial mode regarding every concrete evidences given by India," Sharma said.
He didn't stop there. He sought remind the country that BJP's Lok Sabha victory had come riding on an anti-Pakistan plan and in the light of the same Modi's visit was confusing at best.
He rounded his comments off with a stinger and it was reference to BJP's old allegation that Congress had biryani with Pakistanis. "But what is the answer to the development that he went to have Biryani in Pakistan keeping the nation in dark."
He didn't forget to plug in his own party's Pakistan policy while lashing out at Modi. He said that Congress always wanted friendly relations with neighbouring countries including Pakistan but not on the terms and conditions of Pakistan.
Questioning Modi's "unscheduled" visit, Congress' senior spokesperson Anand Sharma said his engagement with Pakistan is "frivolous, unpredictable, marked by fits and starts and abrupt U-turns".
He asked what assurances has the Prime Minister got on bringing back or punishing perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai attacks, especially Lakhvi and on dismantling terror syndicates in Pakistan acting against India.
Questioning the intent behind his visit, Congress also rejected claims of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj that the Prime Minister's move was 'statesman-like' and claimed that the visit was "pre-arranged" by a businessman.
"The same industrialist who has business partnership with the ruling establishment in Pakistan was there for the last two days. This is out in the open," he said, asking the Prime Minister to reveal the name of the businessman himself.
"We are very clear that the Prime Minister is there to promote only private business interests and not India's national interest which should be supreme."
"Diplomacy is serious, it must have gravitas and predictability. It cannot be frivolous, otherwise it will implode on Shri Narendra Modi's face," he told reporters here.
BJP's allies Shiv Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad wondered whether the visit will lead to effective action against cross-border terrorism as well as terror masterminds like Dawood Ibrahim, Hafiz Saeed and Lakhvi.
"Will Dawood Ibrahim be handed over to India after today's meeting (between Modi and Sharif)? If this happens, we welcome this visit," Sena spokesman Sanjay Raut said in Mumbai.
VHP's Pravin Togadia sounded cautious while issuing a statement on the visit, "We hope that Modi's tour of Pakistan leads to effective action by the neighbouring country against terrorists operating from their soil." "Pakistan is also the land where 1993 Mumbai serial blasts accused and underworld Dawood Ibrahim has been hiding for more than two decades. The neighboring country has so far been in a state of denial in this regard.
"We hope that our dashing and dynamic PM Modiji's intervention will bring about a radical change," Togadia said.
In Srinagar, Kashmiri separatists welcomed Modi's visit with moderate Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq terming it "a positive move" and hardline faction leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani saying they have no objection to improved relations between India and Pakistan.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) wondered as to what was the change that prompted Modi to visit Lahore when BJP opposed talks with Pakistan, and asked why this "yaarana" (friendship).
Senior AAP leader Ashutosh said it was BJP and Modi who were opposing talks with Pakistan under the pretext of terrorism. He questioned whether terrorism has completely stopped as Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif has now become a likeable figure to Modi.
With inputs from PTI
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