One of the most eminent political philosophers of all times and the architect of the Russian Revolution, Lenin, once wrote: “There are decades when nothing happens; and then there are weeks where decades happen.” Indeed, Modi’s ascendancy to political power in India has been one of those weeks where “decades happen.” The event in itself was literally a “revolutionary moment” in Indian political history. And Modi’s emotional speech to the newly elected members of the BJP at the BJP parliamentary meeting was truly a reflection of an Indian cultural renaissance. The newly elected Indian leader bowed and kissed the steps of the Parliament building and promised to serve the BJP and India as his “mother”. Those of us who understand the traditional Indo-Pak culture would fully appreciate what it means to refer to something as “my mother”. There is no other compliment greater than that and there is no honor and commitment larger than that. So far so good. But the questions raised after Modi’s inauguration of Monday, the 26th of May, are: Is the newly sworn Indian Prime Minister going to define Indian domestic interest purely in terms of majoritarian domination (Modi’s BJP has a majority in parliament) and its interstate relations objectives as India being the dominate regional power? Is Modi going to seek India’s hegemony over its neighbors, specifically over Pakistan?
Narendra Modi seems to be a person in great haste to establish India’s desired regional hegemony. In fact, Modi, at the glory of his lifetime achievement, is wishing to do what he should not be wishing or doing now nor for the rest of his tenure as the Indian Prime Minister. Where Modi went wrong politically and strategically on Tuesday, the 27th of May, was, of course, to issue a five-point charge-sheet to the visiting Pakistani Prime Minster, who had flown to New Delhi for Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.
It was an occasion for celebration. Sadly, Narendra Modi erred on a day when he should have basked in glory as the “statesman” to-be; instead he flawed in his political judgment and acted contrary to what can be considered a visionary approach toward initiating an atmosphere for future peaceful co-existence between the two nations. On this auspicious occasion, Modi should have accepted the Pakistani Prime Minister’s congratulations, received accolades for his remarkable success at the polls, enjoyed and acknowledged the warmth of the visiting Pakistani dignitary, and reassured his esteemed guest and the Pakistan nation of everlasting friendship in working together to move forward towards unprecedented initiatives for peace, stability and mutual progress on all fronts.
I wish, as a Pakistani and a political analyst, that the Indian Prime Minister had asked his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to prepare for a permanent “No War Pact” with Pakistan. I wish Modi had proposed a “No military or political hostilities” MOU between the two nations. I wish Modi had recommended a “Joint Indo-Pak Commission for Conflict Resolution.” I wish Modi had suggested a “Joint Indo-Pak Military Command Structure,” a “Joint Indo-Pak Commission,” a “Joint Indo-Pak Initiative for a Non-Alignment Movement,” or a “Joint Indo-Pak Initiative for Global Political Coordination.”
However, above and beyond all of these proposals, I wish Modi had accepted the Pakistani Prime Minister’s invitation to visit Pakistan. I wish Modi had agreed and given an exact date for his Pakistani visit. I wish Modi had physically embraced Nawaz Sharif and said to him that he would be in Islamabad during the coming Eid celebrations to be part of the most sacred Muslim religious celebrations. Imagine the impact of such an act of visionary statesmanship: the entire Pakistani nation would be overwhelmed by such an act of humanitarian generosity. Modi’s stature as an outstanding statesman in the entire Muslim world would have been established and, last but not least, Indian Muslims, 175 million of them (as well as the other minorities), would finally put to rest the fear that Modi’s BJP India will be the Hindu majoritarian domination era.
Perhaps in terms of “realism,” all of my above-mentioned proposals are a tall-order; out of the conceptual and philosophical reach of “Real Politik” demagogues. As a political analyst, I am also aware that the Hindu nationalist BJP carried India over the nuclear threshold in 1998, and given the BJP’s traditional hostility towards Pakistan, the BJP might end up pushing India’s overall military posture and its strategic weapons’ behavior in a new and dangerous direction. But that could be expected of the BJP’s political conduct if only its present leadership under Modi’s Prime Ministership remains stuck in the old-style mindset.
However, as I imagine, Modi is a pragmatic and a dynamic modern political strategist; a man at the helm of Indian national affairs who invariably wishes to move forward on all national issues including India’s relations with Pakistan, its stand on Kashmir, as well as its nuclear doctrine and military strategic directions.
It is understandable that the BJP, during the recently concluded parliamentary elections, was rhetorically aggressive towards Pakistan and sent mixed signals about revising the country’s nuclear doctrine and responding forcefully to Pakistan’s alleged cross-border terrorism on Indian territory. (Why the Pakistani PM did not articulate Pakistan’s concern on this issue is an altogether different subject.) But let us consider that the BJP’s hostility was all election-talk and public perception management for winning votes. The fact of the matter is that an increased potential for military tension with Pakistan is not in New Delhi’s interests - specifically for Modi’s promised economic revival for India’s massively poor population. And the Pakistani army on the other side of the border is certainly not a military machine that can be “walked over.” A military conflict between the two nations could bring untold and mutual destruction. Why would anyone think of a war between the two nations?
My thesis is that there has to be a fundamental paradigm shift from a “Real Politik” approach to conflict-resolution – to a humanistic-ethical discourse. Both India and Pakistan are faith-based societies with focused spiritual and humanistic devotion to community life. Modi is not wrong when he attributes spiritually to his faith - but he will have to prove that his ideals are consistent with his beliefs. Can Modi give a strategic moral-ethical dimension to India’s foreign policy, particularly its approach to Pakistan, the Kashmir issue and the non-majoritarian dimension to its domestic politics safeguarding 175 million Indian Muslims and other minorities such as Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and so on?
And why not - that is what will make Modi the political “Devta” (deity) that he wishes and deserves to be.
In the end, the larger battle for the hearts and minds of the people, on both sides of the divide, will be won by the ideas of justice, solidarity, public compassion, reason and adherence to spirituality of one’s faith - both for Hinduism and for the faithful in Pakistan. That’s where Modi can make his mark in modern Indian politics as a statesman. Will he stand up to the task?
The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.