Modi's stand can make or unmake both him and India

Special to Times of Oman

For someone who has seldom missed an opportunity to tear into Pakistan and Bangladesh, accusing the Congress government of being 'soft on the terrorists', Narendra Modi has lost little time in reaching out to the neighbours.

Whether Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh make it to the grand inauguration of India's new leader or not, the invitation to the two neighbours besides other SAARC member nations is a stroke of diplomatic genius.

And diplomacy at the end of the day is a game of perceptions as much as it is of cold realities and hard national interests. This round clearly went to New Delhi even before the BJP government took charge of the South Block.   

But given his regulation rhetoric as Gujarat chief minister, often directly addressing 'Miyan Musharraf' across the border delighting his domestic audience, if anyone thought Modi would come out with his guns blazing as far as 'dealing with' Pakistan is concerned, they may be in for some disappointment.

For as far as foreign policy, especially engaging Pakistan, is concerned, a tough talking BJP government in Delhi has actually been far more reasonable and proactive, initiating bold measures to bolster relations.  Indeed, under Vajpayee, the South Asian twins saw one of the cosiest periods in their relations.

Sharif still gets all mushy and wistful talking about that historic bus trip from Amritsar to Lahore. It's another matter that that particular burst of Indo-Pak bonhomie ended on the peaks of Kargil. To give credit where due, Vajpayee carried on the journey with Sharif's cockier and more adventurous successor in khakis.

Apparently, Musharraf and Vajpayee came tantalisingly close to resolving the K conundrum during their encounter in the city of love, Agra.

But that was in the past. The future of South Asian relations may not be as promising under Modi. But it need not be as gloomy as is being feared by many.  Lashing out at a neighbour as a state chief minister to the glee of groundlings is one thing and leading the nation of a billion people is quite another.

Mercifully, India's new leader seems to know the critical difference. Indeed, this, coupled with his already shining image abroad, is what might have prompted the outreach to neighbours.  After all, Modi still remains a persona non grata in the United States for what happened in Gujarat 2002.

However, it is not Modi's engagement with Uncle Sam or cousins across the border that is likely to keep Indians awake at night. It is his domestic business or the not-so-hidden agenda of his ideological clan that really needs to be watched out for.

With its unprecedented numbers and sheer, brute majority in parliament --accomplished with just 31 per cent of the vote share thanks to the division of opposition votes, religious polarisation and hubris and incompetence of the Congress — for the first time the BJP is in a position to run India as it pleases.

The party could very well bring out the ideological baggage whose glimpse we saw in Gujarat in 2002.
Not for nothing the state has been showcased as Hindutva's laboratory all these years.

More important, on the basis of its own strength and with the support of NDA allies, the BJP could even amend and change the constitution to reflect its own saffron-tinted worldview.

In its earlier avatar, the BJP government did not touch the constitution largely because it was dependent on its allies for its daily survival. Besides, Vajpayee, for all the talk of being a 'mukhauta' (mask), had enough sense to know that India couldn't afford such dangerous adventures.

Now it is up to India's new leader whether he goes with the nation's choice and demands of his conscience to ensure himself a distinct place in history or remains a prisoner of his past and a divisive dogma.   

Modi stands at a fork in the road and on the cusp of a historic opportunity that could make or unmake both him and India.  He could jump on this grand opportunity to push ahead with the mission that his extended clan has long worked on and in the process destroy this rich, mosaic of a nation.

Or he could make use of this historic opportunity that few leaders in history have had to usher in a new dawn of hope, peace and justice for everyone, making amends and perhaps atone for his past. The nation would want him to reach out and heal the wounds that have long been festering.  

If he truly believes in respecting democracy and people's mandate, as he claimed after reverentially kissing the footsteps of parliament this week, this is what he should and would do.  You cannot build a sound and promising future over the gaping grave of a grievous past.

The author is a Gulf based award winning journalist. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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