There is still a year and half before India goes to polls. A private agency survey has already predicted a slightly reduced BJP back at the helm and consequently a slightly healthier Congress. But this survey must have been before the Pak smile. Time will tell what impact the Shehbaz Sharif statement will have on Pakistan. But it has certainly opened the possibility of a redefinition of patriotism in India: for rulers, opposition parties, intellectuals, and all.
While the world may permanently wonder why Mona Lisa is smiling, there is a similar smile for us Indians to decipher: Shehbaz Sharif (SS), the Pakistan Prime Minister, has all of a sudden said that Pak wants better ties with India and has learnt lessons from the past. This overture has wide opened the Indo-Pak relations for discussion, comment, discord, and suggestion. Former diplomats, political analysts and observers, champions of war and peace, defense strategists and field operators, relegated to the back benches for some time in the G20 chairmanship euphoria have found their feet and voice. All have something to say…
As usual they talk of pros and cons; alternatively. Those looking at the development positively, issue warnings and express reservations in the latter part. Conversely, those wary of Pak intentions express concern and disbelief initially and go into the “might be’s later. Truths of foreign policy like “no permanent enemies/friends only permanent national interests’ and ‘we want peace but we are ready for aggression’ are reiterated in less hackneyed language. Our juvenile patriots whose number among the NaMo fans is dangerously large are swelling with pride; Balakot was not wasted, they assert. They also believe that this change in Pak idiom must have originated in India’s doing away with the special status of Kashmir and abolishing triple talaq.
Those with deeper knowledge of strategy and global perspective have opined that this could be Pak’s desperate scream to come out of its self-created strategic trap of stabbing India whenever and wherever they can. Confrontation on international borders, infiltration, encouragement to insurgency, training and sending terrorists to India to attack civilians and so on. According to this strategy India is too huge a beast for Pakistan to tame-leave aside to overpower. India is almost 3/4th of South Asia and can successfully rebut all other countries’ individual or joint aggression without outside help. So, keep making dents into India; earlier with American help, now with Chinese. Wound and harass this beast: keep it bleeding in a hundred sores. Suffice it to say that Pak protagonists of this strategy must already be looking at SS in shock and would dub him wimpy and unpatriotic.
It is universally known that Pak has more on its plate than it can swallow or handle. It is a wedge between Russia and the Indian ocean; a wedge also between the oil rich West Asia and poverty ridden East Asia inclusive of itself. Pak is also a wedge in China’s hands (once in US hands) to thaw at India. Pak economy is near collapse and has been further weakened by natural disasters in the immediate past. Nuclear empowerment has come at great cost and is perhaps only notional. At best, Pak can challenge India only in cricket and on the line of control with its standing army. Though Pak ranks 10th against India ranking 4th in defense capability it has reason to be proud of itself considering its size. Be that as it may, the Human Development Index ranking of Pak (161) is significantly lower than India (132) while China, which eggs on Pak to irritate India, is 82 places above Pak. No pundit is needed to prove that Pak has destabilized itself more than India which can absorb-though with considerable perturbation- the tremors and trepidations it has been creating in India.
So, if we trust the words of SS the knowledge has come to Pak and wisdom might be in the offing…
Whatever reservations skeptics may have it is for India to look at this as positively as she can. India has to concede that all other countries of South Asia have reason to be wary of her and will always have some discomfiture in dealing with her. They are our uneasy neighbors and shall never stop neighing. While there is no real threat to India’s sovereignty in South Asia some trouble should always be expected. India should stop overreacting to the skirmishes and cross fire on her borders and learn to take those in her stride. It might be India’s yet another ‘Tryst with Destiny.’ South Asian countries are just not worthy of so much attention but even China with all her might cannot make India kneel. Our size is too formidable and so are our strengths.
Official reaction to the Pak smile has been true to expectation: India has reasserted that she always wanted peace with Pakistan and it is for Pakistan to change its anti-India tactics. The usual list of Pak-violations on the border and Pak-supported terrorist acts in India is recounted. One feels that though necessary this is not enough.
That is where India needs to show political maturity: India must give up her obsession with Pak in defining patriotism for Indians. For Indians, patriotism should mean a lot more than just safe boundaries and defense capability. This is a case of more easily said than done: when NaMo rose to the top job in 2014 immediately a large section of educated Indians expected a war with Pak that would end all future wars by humbling Pak decisively. Strong defense is just one attribute of a strong country; India should address other aspects of national strength: internal harmony, tolerance, respect for democratic values and not just mechanical adherence to democratic processes, universal education and not just literacy, safeguarding freedom of the individual, economic policy encouraging entrepreneurship and doing away with relief packages and sops, reducing disparity of class, caste, gender, region, and faith and so on. The present political establishment of India seems in no mood to lift the content of patriotism.
This is how SS has created more problems for both NaMo and his detractors than he created for himself. Pak will go to polls in the present year and India shall go mid next year. If SS receives a favourable mandate his smile will have support of Pak voters at least in spirit and it will be for NaMo to respond positively. He will not be able to swing the polls like he did in 2019 after the Pathankot-Balakot mock war. With a friendly Pak PM around, those taking the government to task cannot be condemned as strengthening India’s enemies. The Pak centered patriotic crap will have lost all relevance and NaMo and Co will have to rethink their patriotic initiatives. As things stand today, they have banked only on strong PM, Party and Publicity so far; they have talked big non-stop without allowing assessment of whether the big talk delivered or not.
The Opposition in India is also caught in this trap of juvenile patriotism. Only yesterday Rahul ended his Bharat Jodo Yatra in Srinagar and asserted that he was warmly received by the people there and challenged NaMo and Co to hold a public meeting in Srinagar: suffice it to say that hoisting the tricolour in Srinagar used to be a Jan Sangh (sic BJP) demand some decades back. Only the shoe is on the other foot now? If they respond positively and ask NaMo to look at the SS remark amicably they run the risk of getting the flak for softening on enemies of the motherland.
The Opposition’s record on the initiatives needed to make India strong internally is not too bright- unfortunately! In fact, it was the collective failure of the previous Congress and all non-BJP coalitions to address the internal turbulence in India that handed the power to BJP and NaMo. Bharat Jodo was fine but greater vision and creativity is necessary to address that. If Rahul should start talking tough and walking tall, he will be no different from NaMo.
There is still a year and half before India goes to polls. A private agency survey has already predicted a slightly reduced BJP back at the helm and consequently a slightly healthier Congress. But this survey must have been before the Pak smile.
Time will tell what impact the SS statement will have on Pakistan. But it has certainly opened the possibility of a redefinition of patriotism in India: for rulers, opposition parties, intellectuals, and all.
- Vinay Hardikar
(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)