Finally the wait is over and Modi Sarkar is ready to come into being on May 26th. A lot of people on facebook, via email and conversations have asked my view about rise of Modi in India. My one line response to them is: it is good for Pakistan. In most cases it raises eye brows and most people think I am out of my mind. Through this article I will try to offer my two cents on this subject.
Rise of Modi reminds me of the election of President Barack Obama and the hype created by it. Modi, like Obama, intelligently used social media for mass mobilization and reaching out to people that traditionally do not vote. Similarly, like Obama, Modi has contested election as someone that can revive the Indian economy and bring back prosperity. The differences are that Obama promised that he will use soft power to retain American influence around the world while Modi has used a hawkish approach during elections to deal with neighbors especially Pakistan and Bangladesh. Obama promised to unite America while Modi did not felt any remorse for the killings of Muslims during his reign as Chief Minister of Gujarat. Obama did not rely on any radical movement like occupy Wall Street to seek the mandate while Modi’s election campaign was largely managed by activists of RSS and VHP, radical Hindu communal organizations. In terms of personalities Obama did not had any executive experience while Modi has over 12 years experience of running a province.
When Obama was elected for his first term in office there were global expectations that a statesman has appeared on the scene and good times are ahead. It was this optimism that motivated the Nobel committee to award him a peace prize without any substantial contributions to show for it. But that optimism faded very soon when he announced to withdraw forces from Iraq and Afghanistan but at the same time authorized covert use of drones to assassinate alleged terrorists. In domestic policy instead of uniting America, Obama became a divisive figure by pursuing divisive bills on healthcare, immigration and economic policies. It was painful to see a man with potential to be a global leader reduced to be just a politician.
Now once more a man has risen in our neighborhood that has the opportunity to rise from above politics and become a statesman. He has the opportunity to stabilize the South Asian region and embark on regional prosperity and growth. The biggest impediment in path of Modi to become a statesman would be the factions that ensured his rise to power i.e. RSS and VHP. Both these radical organizations would want to have a voice at the table by asking for some key cabinet positions including Foreign Affairs, Finance or internal affairs. The names floated for these three key positions by most Indian media organizations have links to these organizations. Modi will not have much luxury in getting on the job training to transform from a chief minister of a small province to become a national leader. The lives of Muslims in Gujarat have improved along with others in the province but at a slower rate as compared to others. In Gujarat, Muslims are also forced to live in designated areas rather than be able to enjoy rights as a full citizen.
Modi has shown signs that he is ready to change. His visit to his mother after getting elected is a departure from his old habit of staying away from family. He has also accepted that he is married rather than refusing to accept that realty earlier. His decision to invite heads of state of SAARC member countries suggest that the priority of his government will be to emerge as a regional leader. The most important country which matters to Modi’s economic development program will be Pakistan. A destabilizing and tense relations with Pakistan will send a wrong signal to other SAARC countries especially Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. These countries have long complained about Indian aggression and interference in their regional affairs. Presence of Pakistani PM during the oath taking ceremony is important for Modi to send a signal that his hawkish election rhetoric is now behind him and he is willing to emerge as a regional leader. Using back channels, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should accept the invitation conditionally that an announcement will be made about the re-start of composite dialogue during his visit. PM Nawaz should also consult our allies in the region before accepting the invitation.
Modi will have to appreciate that Pakistan’s concern in increasing Indian involvement in Afghanistan on its Eastern border is disturbing the balance of power. India’s support for separatist movements in Baluchistan is another area of tension. A better approach for Modi would be to quickly resolve low tension issues like Sir Creek, Siachen and Water accord before moving to high tension areas of Kashmir and Afghanistan.
Why is rise of Modi Sarkar good for Pakistan? It is good for Pakistan at many level.
First it verifies the recent claims by South Asian historians that division of India resulted from the rigid policies of All India Congress. It refused to accommodate the demands of All India Muslim League to create union of Indian states. Rise of Hindutva is a reaffirmation that Hindu radicalism is part of the Indian psyche and it was important for Muslims to seek guarantees for protection of their democratic rights including separate states where they were in a majority.
Secondly, rise of Modi is a signal to us that the only way we can assure protection of our sovereignty is through internal unity and economic self-reliance. A weaker Pakistan that can be Balkanized or that cannot challenge Indian hegemony in the region is one of the agenda pursued by our neighbor. But we should not blame them for it because it is not their responsibility to protect our nation or our interest. It is upon us to emerge as a stronger nation.
Third, an economic growth of South Asia is good for all countries of the region and it increases the demands for products traditionally exported by Pakistan.
Fourth, Modi’s focus on development and growth can only be achieved when the region remains stable and there is a balance of power between countries. It is only possible when India realize Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan, Middle East and Central Asia. It may be possible that a regional security pact is developed that binds all participants to protect each other sovereignty and guarantee non-interference in domestic affairs.
Next few weeks will decide whether Modi remains a politician or emerge as a statesman.