Nawaz Sharif's visit to India

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 28.05.14

The invitation from Indian Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi to Pakistan’s Prime Minister
(PM) Nawaz Sharif to attend his oath-taking ceremony in New Delhi has stirred socio-
political circles in Pakistan. To the utter dismay of many, Sharif accepted the invitation.
Those who were opposed to Sharif’s friendly overture had reminded him of Modi’s past role
in (instigating) the massacre of Muslims in the province of Gujarat in 2002 when he was
Chief Minister (CM). Modi represents the centre-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and won
the elections with a landslide victory. Modi claims to represent the poor, women and the
youth.

There are two messages hidden in Modi’s win. The first message is that the social realities
of India have finally dominated its political realities. The emergence of the BJP as the sole
representative of India indicates that the idea of secular India has been frustrated, at least
for the time being. The majority Hindus did not consider the killings of Muslims in Gujarat an
offence grave enough to not vote for Modi in the elections. The second message is that
hopes for economic prosperity have taken precedence over the hope for communal
harmony. It is obvious that Muslims cannot live comfortably, at least psychologically, under
Modi whether or not they voted for the BJP. While Modi is known for the 2002 Gujarat riots,
Modi is also known for sound economic policies that actuated economic growth in Gujarat.
Modi remained the CM of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, which is a testament to the success of
his policies and his subsequent popularity. These points bring readers to a question: will it
be possible for Modi to replicate the Gujarat model of economic reforms in the centre?

His uninterrupted rule (four terms) in Gujarat coupled with economic reforms swayed Indian
voters in favour of Modi. The BJP allowed Modi to play on this strength. This was a strategic
decision that has yielded dividends. The ruling coalition government, led by Congress, had
no answer to this strategy of the BJP. It is understandable that the economy of the whole of
India cannot be run on the economic policies adopted in a province. Secondly, the realities
of India are not the same as those of Gujarat. However, voters do not listen to these kinds
of arguments. They are wooed by the dreams and promises of economic prosperity and are
ready to overlook the sins committed by their benefactor. As national realities are mostly
different from provincial realities, the electoral victory of Modi is not the end of the story; the
rest of the story is yet to surface.

When the expectations of people are so high, it takes effort by any government to come up
to those expectations. Herein lies the reason behind why Modi may shun his Hindu
nationalist stance and become a compromising person, both nationally and internationally.
In Sharif’s visit, Modi must be seeing a great opportunity to befriend Pakistan to preclude
the chances of confrontation on the border, which may hamper Modi from meeting his
economic targets. Pakistan is also a big physical hurdle in the way of Indian trade with the
states of Central Asia. The alternative route, which India wants to adopt through (Iran and)
Afghanistan is also difficult in case Pakistan has its divergent interests there.

The emergence of Modi at the Indian national level may become a source of inspiration for
Pakistani right wingers to dream of duplication for themselves in Pakistan. That spur may
become a headache for the Sharif government. The right-wing political (religious) parties
may unnecessarily get excited enough to stage demonstrations on one issue or another to
win the hearts and minds of the voters. They may think of dislodging the government
somehow and seeing their way through midterm elections. Even if Modi adopts Pakistan-
friendly policies, the image of Modi (reminiscent of his past) will be a great competitor of
those policies in Pakistan. It will be difficult for Sharif to give a go-ahead signal to his
government on awarding India the status of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) and attached to
that the trade possibilities for Pakistan with India. Hence, how to make Pakistan-India trade
possible will be a major challenge confronting Sharif. Should Sharif consider Modi another
Atal Behari Vajpayee? This is the million-dollar question.

One school of thought says that hardliner Modi will not take such a hard line against
Pakistan once he is on the throne. The example of Vajpayee is quoted who accepted Sharif’
s invitation, travelled to Lahore by bus and signed the Lahore Declaration in February
1999. In the same example lies the point of dissuasion for Modi. If he repeats the same and
another Kargil-like situation is created in the aftermath, what will be the solution? Will Modi
be able to bear the embarrassment borne by Vajpayee? Modi may not be ready for that
and India may not be ready for another such confrontation. Hence, there is no possibility for
Modi’s visit to Pakistan in the near future.

One thing Modi will necessarily be pressing on Pakistan is bringing the culprits of the
Mumbai attacks, 2008 to justice. Despite Sharif’s welcoming gesture to Modi’s invitation, this
point will remain the first hurdle to cross. This is the point that will keep on pushing Modi to
take a rigid stance against Pakistan. The same point is bound to victimise Pakistan’s dream
of the resumption of a meaningful and constructive composite dialogue process on the
issue of Kashmir. The same point is bound to affect domestic politics in Pakistan. At the end
of his visit, Sharif will realise that both Modi and he are the prisoners of their weaknesses,
which are incapacitating in nature. Nevertheless, if both Modi and Sharif emerge
successful, real peace can be established in the region.

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