Mainstream, VOL LII, No 24, June 7, 2014
Importance of being Nawaz Sharif
Monday 9 June 2014, by
I followed the visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to India from his arrival to the departure. I did not find any false note either in his observations or meetings. He did not mention Kashmir. Nor did he meet the separatists who are always keen to have talks with the Pakistani leaders, not the Indians. From all angles, it was a positive and constructive visit.
Still I do not see any breakthrough in the apish stand that the two sides have taken from the time the two countries parted company in August 1947. In fact, I have sensed more optimism on earlier meetings between the Prime Ministers on both sides. Nothing concrete has come out because the establishments in India and Pakistan are basically hostile to each other. No passage of time has lessened their influence.
Yet the relationship of love and hate is always smouldering. People in both the countries yearn for friendship or at least normalcy. The meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif has once again evoked hope for better days. If the past is any experience, the amiable relationship will not fructify. The reason why I say so is the enmity which has been fostered in the minds of people.
Kashmir, which Pakistan considers a core issue, is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is the bias and mistrust which is a narrative of partition. Even after 67 years of division, both India and Pakistan have not been able to formulate even the semblance of a future policy. Both react to particular happenings, sometimes harshly and hurriedly and sometimes mildly and tardily. They have realised that they have to sit across the table to have talks after fighting three wars. Yet, they have done little to create an amiable atmosphere for an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue, the words used by Islamabad’s spokesperson a few days ago.
Still it was to be seen to be believed with how much enthusiasm the people waited for the visit of Nawaz Sharif in India. The nation should have been engaged in Narendra Modi’s resounding victory or the decimation of the Congress party which has ruled India for several decades. But the eyes were fixed on Islamabad.
Four or five days between Modi’s unexpected invitation and Sharif’s belated acceptance dominated the Indian media and the drawing rooms with discussions centring on whether the Pakistan Prime Minister would come to Delhi at all. Even though Modi’s sweep in the Lok Sabha elections and the formation of his government were germane to the occasion, the visit of Sharif was the topmost point of attention. And it was all positive. People wanted him to come and literally prayed that he would.
That he had to bring round the armed forces and the extremist elements was conceded. But it was argued that his arrival would be an apt step to reciprocate Modi’s gesture through the invitation. Therefore, when he telephoned to say ‘yes’, a wave of relief swept through the country. Most newspapers made his acceptance as the first lead.
I recall how at the time of partition there was so much bloodshed—nearly 10 lakh people were massacred on both sides. Yet a few weeks later when I bought a few tapes of Noorjehan at Lahore, the shopkeeper refused to take money since I was from India. A similar treatment was meted out to the Pakistanis.
More recently, the families in Chandigarh fought over hosting the Pakistani visitors who had come to watch a cricket match between India and Pakistan. Outside the subcontinent people hailing from the two countries are the best of friends. Is it because both share the same history and heritage? The fact is that people in Pakistan are no different from those in India in language, dress or eating habits. There are more Muslims in India than the entire population in Pakistan, created on the basis of religion.
It is beyond me to make out why Pakistan has unilaterally ended the posting of two journalists from either country to cover the situation. Pakistan did not have its journalists in position for more than a year. I could have understood the reason if the two Indian journalists had violated any law or sent any despatch which had hurt Pakistan’s sentiments. There was nothing like that. Regretfully, news agencies and correspondents from the West are free to report.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India took a similar zigzag path. Prime Minister Modi, considered a hawk, surprised even hardliners in both the countries when he invited all heads of SAARC nations. Nawaz Sharif was inclined to accept it. Yet some India-Pakistan animosity came in the way. The Army and extremists exerted so much pressure that the visit seemed abandoned. Ultimately, Sharif asserted himself to attend the swearing-in ceremony. His was not only a gesture because after meeting Modi, Sharif said that a new chapter has begun in the history of the two countries.
The fear that Modi is anti-Muslim was allayed when the two met. Modi realises that he has to take the Muslims along to traverse the path of development, the slogan which has given him and his Bharatiya Janata Party a majority, 282 seats, in the 543-member Lok Sabha. It is churlish on the part of Pakistan to question the credentials of a person whom the people of India have elected in fair and free polls. There are enough voices in India to force Modi not to go away from the secular path, part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
True, his party and its mentor, the RSS, are known for their Hindutva approach. Yet they would put the country in a big turmoil if they exerted pressure on Modi to build a temple where the Babri Masjid stood or to tinker with Article 370 which constitutionally gives a special status to Jammu and Kashmir when it acceded to India on that condition.
What kind of country Modi wants to build is the question. The Cabinet he has constituted gives a message that he wants the different elements to feel that he will not discriminate against any segment of the society, religious or linguistic. The first heartening step of his government to appoint a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to find out where black money is stacked is a good omen. I want to give him time to meet the aspirations of the people he has aroused.
The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com