India - Pakistan Relations After Modi
Indo-Pak Relations: A Window of Opportunity that has Almost Closed
Economic & Political Weekly, Vol - XLIX No. 51, December 20, 2014 By Neeti Nair
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government, with its massive majority, presents a real window of opportunity to interrogate and deepen processes already at play between India and Pakistan. However, the recent resurgence of Hindutva over governance amounts to letting go of this opportunity.
Neeti Nair (email@example.com) is associate professor of history at the University of Virginia, United States. She is the author of Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India, Harvard and Permanent Black, 2011.
Scholars, foreign policy analysts, and journalists focusing on Indo-Pak relations have long described these relations as “intractable”.[i] Even those analysts who have highlighted the recent “unprecedented initiatives taken by individual policymakers” have been guarded against such optimism; they have noted the “dictates of state-level pressures” and “political and institutional opposition in both countries”.[ii] They refer, in particular, to the pressures exerted by allies and the opposition on weak coalition governments — the norm in India for the last two decades. This essay contends that the new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government, with its massive majority, presents a real window of opportunity to interrogate and deepen diplomatic processes already at play between India and Pakistan. However, the recent resurgence of Hindutva over governance amounts to letting go of this opportunity.
Writing on the eve of the 16th Lok Sabha election results, Pranay Sharma, foreign editor at Outlook magazine, said that it is likely that regional parties would be part of the coalition at the centre. He also highlighted the attendant opportunities and difficulties that such an arrangement would entail for the crafting of a new foreign policy.[iii] The BJP hardly needed any allies to form government: with 282 seats, they had won over half the seats in Parliament. Commentators who tried to read between the lines of BJP’s electoral campaign and Narendra Modi’s new pan-Indian appeal argued that this was a mandate for development and governance, not Hindutva.[iv] This much was clear: the newly formed government had a solid majority to take significant steps towards transforming Indo-Pak relations.
Squandering Away the Opportunity
The Modi government’s early days suggested precisely this possibility. For his swearing-in ceremony, Modi invited all of India’s neighbors, including Pakistan. The symbolism of the shawl and sari that were exchanged between Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi (for the former’s wife and the latter’s mother) garnered much attention in the media and raised hopes of a new beginning in Indo-Pak relations. Some journalists also pointed to the fact that it had not been easy for Nawaz Sharif to ride roughshod over the army’s objections and come to India.
The tide began to turn later in the summer, after Modi took charge. There was heavy cross-border firing, which reportedly resulted in the death of five civilians and one Indian constable, across the LoC between India and Pakistan in October-November 2014.
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