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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 41 New Delhi September 29, 2018

‘Bhai’ Imran to boost BJP’s 2019 Prospects?

Saturday 29 September 2018, by M K Bhadrakumar


By accident or out of sheer ennui, I indulged in a rare act last evening (September 20)—channel surfing. And I ended up in the improbable situation of watching our Delhi-based ‘news channels’ and instantly getting hooked to the acrimonious ‘discussion’ going on regarding the forthcoming talks between the Indian and Pakistani FMs in New York next week.

The surprising part was the savage attack by the anchor, a known propagandist of the Modi Government, on the decision to accept Imran Khan’s invitation to hold FM-level talks. He became emotional as a patriotic Indian. I felt confused to see such abnormal behaviour on the part of someone with a robust record of being an apologist of Right-wing Hindutva politics, voicing such virulent condemnation of PM Modi for ‘betrayal’ of the memory of the BSF jawan whose gruesome murder in cross-border violence took place only two days ago.

Meanwhile, some tantalising propositions also occured to my mind. To be sure, the Modi Government doesn’t seem perturbed about the horrific killing of the BSF jawan. On Thursday (September 20) the MEA announced that the talks in New York will go ahead. Curiously, the establishment spokesmen are also justifying the government’s acceptance of Imran’s invitation.

Clearly, the government sees nothing unusual in the gruesome murder this week and probably views it contextually in the tortuous history of India-Pakistan relationship where the subsoil is full of dark secrets. That is reasonable. After all, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman boasted this week that the Indian Army also kills and beheads Pakistani soldiers.

Suffice it to say, the issue boils down to Modi’s political calculus. The underlying differences in India-Pakistan relations are far too intractable. Take the Kashmir issue. No matter what Imran says or writes, Modi cannot talk. In fact, what is there to talk at all? It stands to reason that the highly experienced TV anchor was probably making out a good case for an alibi to postpone the resumption of any structured India-Pakistan dialogue, which Islamabad has been pressing for.

For, how can the dialogue resume when the public opinion in the country militates against it? Equally, the intriguing part is the unwarranted public remarks lately by our government‘s Ministers caricaturing Imran as a progeny of the Pakistani military. Home Minister Rajnath Singh and junior Minister in MEA V.K. Singh led the campaign. Are we taunting Khan Saheb to perform as an independent power-centre? Interestingly, our campaign coincides with the release of Nawaz Sharif from prison. A mere coincidence? There are no easy answers.

All in all, we have a complex scenario. What can we expect out of the Swaraj-Qureshi encounter in New York under these circum-stances? To my mind, in all probability the EAM will be taking with her to New York the rusted key to the door leading to the SAARC Summit in Islamabad, which we had thrown away four years ago. Put differently, the EAM’s main agenda will be to create the conditions for a high-profile visit by Modi to Pakistan.

Indeed, if Modi’s visit to Pakistan materialises before the 2019 poll, that will be to the great advantage of the BJP’s election campaign. Looking at the curious way that things are moving, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s sensational remarks last week in New Delhi repositioning his organisation as a secular mainstream movement fall into place, too—his disowning the teachings of Hedgewar, Gowalkar and Savarkar; his overture to Indian Muslims as equal citizens; his new narrative of the Hindutva being an inclusive ideology that can accommo-date Muslims as well and so on.

Postscript: Bowing to the TV anchorperson’s pressure, the GOI has cancelled the proposed FM-level talks for the present provoking sharp reaction from Pakistan, notably Imran Khan himself.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).

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