Pink turban: II

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By F.S. Aijazuddin

ORDINARILY, the gesture — a gift of sweets — would have gone unnoticed. It was the timing that was of momentous significance. After years of diplomatic dog-fighting, bare-fanged belligerence, and a dress rehearsal for war, Smt. Sushma Swaraj (India’s external affairs minister) suddenly and uncharacteristically presented her Pakistani counterpart with a box of sweets that she hoped would remove the bitterness of previous dialogues.

The gift was made in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on May 22, three days before the declaration of the Indian general results. How was she so sure of her continuity in the post, unless she and others in the BJP high command were aware of what the results would be?

The enormous mandate the Indian voters have given to Mr Modi’s BJP could not have come about by accident. It is either God-given or manmade, or both. During his five-year tenure, Prime Minister Modi has paid homage at every sacred shrine leading to the crescendo of his lonely vigil in the caves of Kedrinath, close to Lord Shiva’s Mount Kailash. The gods heard his supplications, and have now answered his prayers. Prime Minister Modi will reciprocate by returning India to the Hindu gods.

If the mandate was manmade, there is only one person — Amit Shah, president of BJP — who could have masterminded such a tsunami of implausible change. In the run-up to the election process, it became clear that the BJP’s performance (or lack of it) on economic, agrarian and fiscal issues would reduce it from being a forerunner to being a competitor. If one was to point to one single shift in the BJP’s electoral strategy, it was after the Pulwama/Balakot aerial combats.

Nehru’s legacy was to unite India; Modi’s plan is to unify Hindutva.

Suddenly, India was told that only Prime Minister Modi could protect India from aggressive forces (ie Pakistan). Anything that diluted this construct was hidden from the public, which is why not surprisingly the disclosure that the IAF had shot down its own Mi-17 helicopter over Budgam appeared only after the polls had closed.

Social historians will spend the next five years writing volumes analysing Prime Minister Modi’s inordinate success. He meanwhile will busy himself with dismantling the India Jawaharlal Nehru had fabricated, erasing the faded hieroglyphics of Nehruvian secularism and socialism. Nehru’s legacy was to unite India; Modi’s plan is to unify Hindutva.

What should Pakistan expect from Prime Minister Modi’s second government? Certainly not reciprocity. Prime ministers Modi and Imran Khan are now on different planes. One has won his election with the mother of all mandates, his victory unchallenged even by Congress. The other has yet to recover from the stigma of his ‘selection’ and seems unable to achieve a modus vivendi with disgruntled opposition parties. At times, Prime Minister Imran Khan appears not even to be in control of his PTI party or his cabinet.

What can Prime Minister Imran Khan offer Prime Mini Modi that India wants? Obviously, India will begin by demanding the abolition of any terrorist nests. A resolution of the Jammu & Kashmir issue? The reopening of cross-border trade? The list is endless.

When should one expect bilateral talks? Not soon. Prime Minister Modi intends to savour his victory amongst those who voted for him. Pakistan did not vote for him; it simply assisted him in winning the election.

Friends of India have been caught off-guard by the alacrity with which those to whom their religion was a matter of private practice, have suddenly painted themselves saffron in public. To some, Prime Minister Modi’s election was akin to an epiphany, as if they had been woken up after a 70-year snooze in la-la land. It is a curious reaction. It is as if Hindu India had been for decades, if not millennia, a Rip Van Winkle, asleep until awoken to behold Prime Minister Modi’s new India.

One Congress stalwart who hopes to lead the party in the Lok Sabha has already published a book on Modi and another on Why I am a Hindu. How many in Congress incubate similar inclinations?

For India’s intellectual liberals like Dr Romila Thapar and Arundhati Roy, Prime Minister Modi’s victory spells the end of intellectualism, as they defined it. They will be relegated to voicing their opinions on foreign news channels. They will be made to watch the history they wrote being rewritten in saffron ink.

Five years ago, Mr Modi (freshly elected as prime minister) invited all the heads of neighbouring countries to attend his swearing-in at Rashtrapati Bhavan. It was held on May 26, 2014. Mian Nawaz Sharif (then prime minister) attended. Eighteen months later, on Dec 25, 2015, Prime Minister Modi made an ‘unscheduled’ visit to the Sharif’s estate at Raiwind where he presented him with a pink turban.

Mian Nawaz Sharif paid the price for receiving his gift. What will be the cost of the box of sweets for Prime Minister Imran Khan?

The writer is an author.