Talking with a different Modi

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that there may be a better chance of peace talks with India if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins the general election.

The assumption is that peace talks with Pakistan means talks on Kashmir as well. So Khan who is considered to be close to the guardians of the Pakistani state possess the “mandate” to redraw borders and expects the leader of the BJP to have a similar mandate from the people after Elections 2019.

Over the many decades since the two countries fought, cried hoarse, derided each other in every conceivable international fora and even squandered a couple of attempts at rapprochement and yet this formulation of hardline adversaries being able to arrive at a genuine peace between the two countries is a prospect that seems like tantalising plausibility.

There is proof from far and wide of bitter adversaries being the best peacemakers. Afar and years ago, Conservative US President Richard Nixon in 47 Februarys ago landed in Beijing made his peace with the Chairman Mao Zedong. Staying with US presidents, President Ronald Reagan with his Star Wars (Strategic Defence Initiative) did initiate the START process (Strategic Arms Reduction Treatises), one should not forget.

In February 1979 as Foreign Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, one of the founders of the rightwing BJP revived India-China relations that had gone into “a chill” since the 1962 war. Vajpayee as the prime minister in 2001 at the India-Pakistan Summit at Agra reportedly was on the brink of arriving at a deal with Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf.

So there is enough precedent to err on the side of the formulation that “a conservative can bring us peace.”

Except for the Agra Summit where a master politician like Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee might have seen an opportunity to make an epoch-making impact on the history of the sub-continent, only to have it scuttled by his arch-rival-yet-fellow-rightwing stalwart L.K. Advani, the ideological and strategic chasm that either Nixon or Reagan tried to bridge were not attempts at making peace with the ideology of the “devil”. They were attempts at deescalation of tensions.

But expecting an entente or even a deescalation of tension with a redoubled Modi at the helm is not quite like the earlier mentioned precedents.  

Modi, did land up in Islamabad to greet Nawaz Sharif on his birthday in 2015. Will he be inclined to do the same on Imran Khan’s birthday in 2019? If Modi returns to power again after this elections campaign, one filled with invocations of Pulwama and Balakot, then the plank of his return would have been anti-Pakistan-ism, if there is a term like that.

A freshly minted Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 wanted to be that man who gave that opportunity to an ever-recalcitrant neighbour. A reannointed  Modi in 2019 might not be in the need for such gestures. His ideological predilections will dissuade him as well. 

Besides, at the core of the Modi phenomenon has been his uncompromising persona. His appeal is to a core base that is of his own making and not necessarily that of the RSS/BJP’s combine. The base he appeals to is about bravado and maschimo. 

Modi’s 56-inch chest might be a term of derision for some, but his base it is still a valid expression of their masculinity, indeed, the country’s maschismo.  

Modi has most often not found the need to intervene and assuage the country on many issues that have been highly divisive. Be it Gujarat 2002, Modi’s best analogy for a regret was his sadness if a puppy were run over my a speeding vehicle. The travails of people post demonetisation of GST after not addressed apologetically. 

If that is the risk he was willing to take as prime minister in his first term, a rejuvenated Modi will have the confidence to also that Akhand Bharat that stretch from Afghanistan to Myanmar is also a right. 

Of course there will be no war over Akhand Bharat, but then there cannot be a compromise over it either.

Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan will have to contend with different Prime Minister Narendra Modi, if he does return.

An edited version of this article is available at The Hindu.