Challenges for Modi

January 20,2015

Part - IChallenge 1: To live with the sobering effect of wielding state power when in the mind and body there linger the addictive effects of the intoxicant stimulants of pre-poll rhetoric.This task is made harder by the fact that the Pakistan-bashing jibes, threats and slogans were more than mere

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Part - I
Challenge 1: To live with the sobering effect of wielding state power when in the mind and body there linger the addictive effects of the intoxicant stimulants of pre-poll rhetoric.
This task is made harder by the fact that the Pakistan-bashing jibes, threats and slogans were more than mere transient rhetoric. They sprang from a long-held, deep-rooted conviction that the very formation of Pakistan was the outcome of a conspiracy to prevent the emergence of the mythical Mahabharat. Recently approved school textbooks in Gujarat define the concept of Mahabharat to include Afghanistan to the west and Myanmar to the east, Nepal to the north and Sri Lanka to the south, and including Pakistan and Bangladesh in between.
If a new course of building better relations with Pakistan were to be pursued, would we not ask how the gloating Modi masks of pre-May 2014 are gradually changing their features? As in every other nation-state, the harsh realities of using state power soon after taking charge of public office bring forth unlikely new checks, restraints and high-risk consequences that inhibit letting pre-poll heat coming to a boil.
Challenge 2: To prevent the recurrence of elections in Indian states over five intervening years between one Lok Sabha polls and the next one from compounding the previous challenge.
Or, how to keep stoking anti-Pakistan sentiments as an additional vote-getting factor, without upsetting the apple cart at the central, union, and state level.
The Pakistan factor is a variable electoral factor, from one Indian state or region to another. Internal issues probably always hold primacy over the paranoia about Pakistan. Yet the 29 Indian states are not quite surgically separated from each other. They are body parts of a single form. Wherever used, Pakistan-baiting does have some spill-over effect.
To pander to emotive, low-risk polling campaign issues becomes an almost continuous, ceaseless process in India. This is unlike Pakistan, where elections for both the federal and provincial legislatures are held simultaneously. One can well imagine the enormous size and logistical complexities in India with regard to holding simultaneous polling but central and state polls could be held on the same simultaneous-staggered schedule that the Indian system manages so well for the Lok Sabha polls. This may well notably liberate campaign clamour from the clutches of hate-speech against both internal and external adversaries, real and imagined.
There is a perverse price to be paid by the neighbours of the world’s largest democracy which is also a 24-hour, 365-days, round-the-clock, round-the-year, five-year-term electoral democracy.
Challenge 3: To take the giant internal, personal, psychological leap and the external political leap of finally and belatedly expressing at least a single, unequivocal statement of remorse for being chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 when the massacre of Muslims became, for several days, a de-facto official policy.
And how to do so without appearing weak in the eyes of one’s own electorate, and also remain acceptable to one’s historical patron institutions that have nurtured and facilitated promotion to the union level?
For the one out of every four Indian voters who actually voted for Modi and the BJP in 2014, the potential gains in stature and credibility – both internally and externally – are of enormous and pivotal potential, particularly for Pakistan.
It would indicate that, instead of following the downward spiral of regression that afflicts many leaders brought to power either by elections or by force, here is an individual who has consciously chosen to take a spiral staircase upwards to a new level of self-critical humility and authentic respect for non-Hindus.
The Gujarat episode was not a purely internal Indian tragedy. Its external human and political ramifications were even then immediately apparent. Though human memory can be erratically short and, fortunately, sometimes quickly forgiving, the glaring absence of even a single word of empathy and regret by Modi has helped make this issue an enduring source of concern for a predominantly Muslim Pakistan.
The awareness in Pakistan of this lack of remorse deters any real acceptance of the Indian prime minister as a leader who genuinely bears goodwill for Muslims, be they in Pakistan or India. Nor are most people in Pakistan impressed by the opportunistic U-turns taken by the US, UK, EU and others who now welcome Modi merely because of the electoral mandate he has secured.
Challenge 4: To develop a truly non-hegemonistic vision for India that is not obsessed with size, scale, growth, economic power, military power etc. And to become a moral and ethical superpower. In other words, how to develop a heart large enough to match the spread of its land and the splendour of its people?
That proposition is eligible for a top prize in the Annual Global Festival of Fanciful Notions reportedly being planned by the United Nations.
Yet, notwithstanding all of the Indian state’s protestations of pristine innocence, expressed from time to time by each government, the sheer size and unstated – but obvious – ambitions of the region’s largest country are unmistakable and evident to every neighbour, especially Pakistan.
Which brings one to the next challenge.
Challenge 5: To relate well with Pakistan as the only neighbour unwilling to accept condescending patronage from its larger neighbour, even when such patronage is offered as pure benevolence rather than as manipulative support.
With Pakistan, the predictable puzzle without an easy or apparent solution is that no offer of Indian aid similar to that offered to Nepal and Bhutan is likely to be made, nor will it be requested or accepted. Except in times of extreme natural disaster such as the 2005 earthquake.
In multilateral discourse as in Saarc or in bilateral talks, when they do occur, the language used is ‘partnership’ or ‘equal partnership’. ‘Patronage’ is not part of the formal lexicon of diplomacy. But, like calling a spade by its full five-letter name helps make a dent in the ground, it is similarly necessary to bluntly refer to India’s penchant to be patronising. Because though the possession of nuclear weapons is a kind of equaliser, the Indian state has a proclivity almost historically ingrained, and frequently discernible, of subtle arrogance towards its smaller neighbours.
Bull-headedly, or courageously, as the case may be, Pakistan is the only state in South Asia unwilling to be overawed by mere size and scale, leave alone potential patronage by Indian aid – however well-intended.
Challenge 6: To develop within the PM’s Secretariat and at the highest levels of the BJP and its allied patron-institutions a more correctly informed, insightful appreciation of the multi-layered complexity of the state and society of Pakistan.
The overwhelming dominance of a misinformed, simplistic, stereotypically predictable set of presumptions prevail in most segments in India, including the media. This vacuum reinforces and expands ignorance and misperceptions.
The absence of accurate knowledge about Pakistan becomes an impenetrable wall. There may be accuracy in pin-pointing targets for military action, if decided upon. There may be effective intelligence-gathering of some aspects. Yet, despite the fact that there are probably more centres and scholars in India doing Pakistan-specific research than, correspondingly, in Pakistan conducting detailed analysis of India’s vast complexity, the quality and depth of understanding about contemporary Pakistan that one comes across in general among opinion-makers, political leaders and media figures in India is below par for so vital a course. India is in good company, though: the same is true for the US, UK and Europe.
To be continued
The writer is a former senator and federal minister.


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