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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 12, March 14, 2015

Ray of Sunshine

Saturday 14 March 2015, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

The following ‘Political Notebook’ by N.C. was written twenty years ago and appeared in Mainstream (March 4, 1995). It is being reproduced here against the backdrop of a two-day seminar in New Delhi (March 4-5, 2015) “Understanding Pakistan” (to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy) that was attended by a large number of Pakistani scholars and peace activists working for restoring and strengthening Indo-Pak amity.

Ray of Sunshine

The enthusiasm generated by the two-day India-Pakistan Peoples’ Convention, which was held last week in New Delhi, is certainly not a government-sponsored outfit.

The organisers on the Indian side are well-known for their severely critical stand on many issues pertaining to the handling of the crisis in Punjab and Kashmir. In the understanding of the average newspaper reader in the Capital, many of those who were responsible for arranging the meeting are highly critical of the role of the security forces in the Kashmir Valley and to that extent are not in the good books of the government and the ruling political establishment.

In this background, the success of the get-together —as reflected in the coverage of the event in the Indian press—brings out the growing public urge in this country for an end to the angry confrontation that marks the official-level relations between the two neighbours in recent years. In short, one may venture to say that while at the official level the governments of the two countries have been drifting to an eyeball-to-eyeball acrimony, the popular mood is veering round towards a relationship of friendly neighbourhood.

In the deliberations of the meeting, obviously there were divergent perceptions, though these differences were not along the lines of the frontier that divides the two countries. Within the Indian side, there were different perceptions on how to handle the vexed nuclear question and how to go about settling the Kashmir crisis. Similar divergences could be discerned on the Pakistani side as well.

It is therefore not surprising at all that there has been a tinge of disappointment when media reports from Pakistan were found to be critical of the deliberations of the New Delhi meet. The burden of the press criticisms in Pakistan has been that the stand of the New Delhi get-together has been such as would weaken the official stand of the Pakistan Government. In other words, the press critics in Pakistan seem to suggest that the friends from Pakistan who attended the New Delhi meeting should have dittoed only the official line of their government.

This line of approach cuts at the very basis of the people-to-people initiative for bettering relations between the two neighbouring countries. It is precisely because of the bitter deadlock which has beset the relations between the two governments that this people-to-people initiative has become significant, urging the public in both the countries not to lose hope but to strive harder to explore fresh avenues for mutual understanding. In other words, the message of the New Delhi convention—as was of the previous one at Lahore—has been a message of hope instead of the message of despair that comes out of the official postures of the two governments. Further, the message of hope and confidence that the people-to-people diplomacy has generated at the New Delhi meeting is expected to serve as a spur for bold and imaginative Indo-Pak diplomacy by the two governments. In the democratic set-up through which the governments of both the countries function today, the manifestation of the will of the public helps to refashion diplomacy to faithfully reflect that will of the people.

This positive trend needs to be nurtured by all forces of democracy and peace in both the countries. Pakistan today is beset with serious problems of sectarian Shia-Sunni violence as has erupted on a large-scale at Karachi necessitating the imposition of emergency measures by the government. Further, the Afghan imbroglio has its inevitable repercussions on the body politic of Pakistan. The emergence of Taliban irredentists asserting armed fanaticism is bound to undermine the foundations of the democratic polity in Pakistan. The recent upsurge of bigotry in the name of Islam, as demonstrated over the case of the Christian youngster charged with blashphemy of Islam, is an ominous signal which the courageous band of human rights activists in Pakistan have boldly sought to thwart. In this case too, the fact that a negative development is being resisted by the positive elements is a sign of democratic assertion.

Much the similar task faces the adherents of democracy in India as well. The fanatic move of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal to attack the mosque at Varanasi has been thwarted by timely action on the part of the administration backed by the overwhelming public disapproval of the insane move. What is particularly heartening in this episode is the bold and unequivocal condemnation of the VHP stand by BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee. Not only as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Mr Vajpayee commands eminence as a national leader by his wise and statesman-like stand. It is worth recalling that Mr Vajpayee was the one BJP leader who unhesitatingly disapproved the demolition of the Babri Masjid by the fanatic fringe of his own party in 1992. It may further be noted that when he was the Foreign Minister in the Janata Party Government in 1977-79, the Indo-Pak relations showed definite signs of improvement largely at his initiative.

In the midst of gloom all around, one can detect unmistakable streaks of sunshine in Indo-Pak relations. Here lies hope for the future of South Asia as a whole.

(Political Notebook, Mainstream, March 4, 1995)