By Swapan Dasgupta
In the coming weeks, both civilian and military policy-makers in Islamabad are certain to mull over one of the most astonishing by-products of its latest spat with New Delhi: the legitimisation of Pakistan’s involvement in the internal affairs of Jammu and Kashmir by a section of India’s public intellectuals.
Whether this extraordinary development points to Pakistan’s success in nurturing Track-2 dialogues or is symptomatic of deeper schisms within India are issues that will be dissected by an otherwise beleaguered Establishment across the Radcliffe Line. Pending a considered assessment, the editorial pages of Indian newspapers will, however, produce many smiling faces in Pakistan.
The outpourings of rage against the Narendra Modi government’s supposed ‘over-reaction’ to the High Commissioner’s meetings with separatist leaders may even convince Pakistani strategists of the need to persevere with the ‘core issue’ of Kashmir. The coming months will definitely witness a concerted Pakistani bid—backed by international do-gooders—to roll back the new red lines drawn by India, perhaps with the use of some explosive pressure points.
In Pakistan, there will even be an understandable temptation to interpret the criticism of the Modi government’s unilateral withdrawal from the Foreign Secretary-level talks as evidence of a weakening of India’s resolve to withstand the war of a “thousand cuts”. That would amount to a grave misreading of India’s internal dynamics.
For a start, it is important to recognise that the decision to withdraw from the dialogue in Islamabad was widely supported within India. The opposition parties had initially taunted the Prime Minister for not acting on his promise to not tolerate any Pakistani transgression. However, once Modi lived up to his image as a no-nonsense leader, the opposition guns fell strangely silent. Indeed, there was the bizarre spectacle of Congress leaders reacting to the event in different voices—one lot participating in the hand wringing and another lot demanding the expulsion of the Pakistan High Commissioner.
The desire to test Modi’s reaction was not confined to the opposition in India. There are indications that the Pakistani Establishment too was anxious to see how far it could push the envelope. It clearly never imagined Modi would react the way he did. There was awareness that Modi was different from Manmohan Singh. But how different? Most important, Pakistan needed to know whether Modi’s neighbourhood thrust would also translate into a variant of I.K. Gujral’s asymmetry doctrine. It’s now apparent it won’t.
Any understanding of a foreign country involves more than poring over press clippings. Presumably, those involved in monitoring India in Pakistan, even if it is for subversive ends, delve deeper. However, the influence of the media, particularly international media, in shaping perceptions can’t be discounted. On this count, the India desks in Islamabad may have been guilty of accepting the rash judgments of Delhi’s foreign media at face value.
The foreign media has traditionally based its assessments of India on received wisdom from the local media and interactions with the type of people who work for international agencies, patronise NGOs and attend literature festivals. During the general election, it demonstrated a deep hostility to the BJP and a partiality for AAP. More to the point, Modi was invariably painted as a deeply ‘polarising’ figure whose victory would put a question mark over India’s future as a plural and tolerant country.
After the election, and once the awkward business of explaining the ‘unexpected’ verdict was done with, there has been a rash of reports—particularly after India said no to the WTO—suggesting widespread disappointment with Modi. The suggestion was that the job of governing India was proving too daunting for the “outsider”. On August 12, for example, the venerable New York Times reported that “this early wave of disenchantment is a reminder that the man India elected this year is, in some ways, a cipher.”
According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary ‘cipher’ means ‘zero’, hardly a description that fits a Prime Minister whose presence in public meetings still evoke frenzy. Yet, when reportage becomes an exercise in affirming prejudices, misjudgements are bound to be recurrent. But then, for some people, any stick to beat Modi will do—even if means giving a helping hand to the patrons of terror and Islamist terrorists.
Sunday Times of India, August 24, 2014