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Imran Khan, Narendra Modi Have Chance To Make History

Territorial dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan is one example where false claims and bloated ego have wreaked havoc

Friday December 21, 2018 11:04 PM, Md. Aariz Imam

India Pakistan

History is replete with examples of political grandstanding by arrogant leaders. At the same time it’s also full of landmark opportunities that they came across to make major course correction. However, no politician worth his tuft has ever had the guts to choose the latter and create history.

The territorial dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan is one such example where false claims and bloated ego have wreaked havoc in what once used to be referred as paradise on earth. Imran Khan and Narendra Modi are passing through once such historic moment where a major step down from their stated positions by both the stakeholders can lead to lasting peace in the subcontinent.

In a heartwarming and surprise move quite unbecoming of Pakistan, Imran Khan while delivering a speech at the inauguration of Kartarpur corridor – in itself a significant goodwill gesture- offered to resolve Kashmir issue as well as all other irritants that mar the hostile Indo-Pak relations.

Imran admitted, if not in as many words, that Pakistan’s soil was indeed being used for terrorism and that it was not in Pakistan’s interest to allow terror attacks from it’s territory. Reposing his faith on the Indian leadership, he further said that it required just one strong leader on either side of border with the necessary will power to settle Kashmir dispute.

After Imran’s overtures, ball now lies in India’s court. The question, can Narendra Modi step up to the occasion and answer Khan’s call for peace, will determine whether we will be able to make history.

However, as things stand for him, the decision for Narendra Modi to make will not be easy, given the drag of political posturing. Pakistan & Kashmir are issues that have shaped BJP’s fortunes (as well as dealt it misfortune), since the time of Jan Sangh’s formation. Pakistan & Kashmir even when indispensable to BJP’s political imagination, have sounded political death knell for many of its top leaders (as I shall argue later).

The Posturing

It’s interesting to note how Narendra Modi during his term in office as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, had used the fear of imaginary threats to his life from terrorists who didn’t exist but were publicized to have crossed the border from Pakistan. The metering of threat succeeded in building a perception about Narendra Modi among the masses, that led him to be revered as the Hindu HridaySamraat, (the savior of Hindus), who was working tirelessly to restore the millennia old mythology of Ram Raaj.

Post 2014, after he became the Prime Minister, Modi’s engagement with Pakistan as well as Kashmir have been driven not by the complexities of the lingering issues, but by the currency it holds in faraway Hindi heartland, the bastion of BJP. Pakistan today, has become the symbol of everything anti-establishment, so much that every act of dissent is presented as favoring Pakistan, no matter the dissent relates to foreign policy or issues much closer home, municipal waste. Every progressive assembly in defiance of center’s dictatorial act is alleged to be sponsored by Pakistan. Right from party president Amit Shah to workers across rank and file, Pak-Kashmir bashing is believed to be a necessary and sufficient condition for spinning around a nationalism narrative. Under the circumstances, to respond favorably to Pakistan’s call for peace, would be akin to playing with fire. With 2019 general elections round the corner it’s a risk, much to India’s dismay, Modi can’t afford to take.

The Past

Shyama Prasad Mukherji founded Bhartiya Jan Sangh which was later renamed as BhartiyaJanta Party. Mukherji, earlier, was the Minister of Industry & Supply in independent India’s first cabinet. He resigned from his office due to differences with Nehru over the pact signed with Liaqat Ali Khan, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan. The treaty that was signed in Delhi included among other things formation of a minority commission in both the countries to secure the rights of respective religious minorities. Mukherji, who had also been a Hindu Mahasabha president in the past, contended that the arrangement was detrimental to the interests of Hindus who were a minority in East Pakistan.

Mukherji was also strongly against the special status granted to Jammu & Kashmir under Article 370. J&K under Article 370 had its own constitution; the Chief Minister of the state was designated as Prime Minister; and the state allowed to have its own flag. After his resignation from the government Mukherji spent most of his time in mobilizing support over the Kashmir cause. Along with his followers he marched to Kashmir with his demand of “Ek Vidhaan, Ek Pradhaan, Ek Nishaan”. After having landed in the valley he was taken into custody where he was reported to have died due to heart attack. Even though he had to pay the price with his life, in his death Mukherji had solidified Jan Sangh’s political fortunes, and immortalized himself for the future generation of right wing patrons.

His death led to countrywide protests. In Delhi the protests took place outside parliament house which was the de facto choice for protest location those days. Mukherji’s death was met with a frenzied crowd creating a ruckus on the parliament street. After the events it was banned to assemble in front of parliament house for any kind of protest meet citing security concerns, and a new location JantarMantar assigned for expressing dissent.

It was during these protests that the second rung of Jan Sangh leadership came to fore. Atal Bihari Vajpayee who managed the Delhi protests became the numerouno in the party. Vajpayee was amongst the founding members of Bhartiya Jan Sangh but remained a pale shadow of his self till the time Mukherji was alive.

He grabbed the opportunity no sooner after Mukherji’s death, crystallizing party’s ideology around Kashmir, Pakistan and Mukherji’s dream of Akhand Bharat. It’s remarkable how since the time Vajpayee took control of Jan Sangh (by now a established political affront of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the party has been consistent in including Article-370 along with Uniform Civil Code and Ram Mandir, in its election manifesto.

For Vajpayee another tryst with Kashmir came decades later when as Prime Minister of India he publicly hailed Kashmir for Kashmiriyat and made an outreach for peace in the valley by advocating Insaniyatand Jamhooriyat as the mantra to win over the Kashmir people. Though, high sounding words they were, it changed little when it came to center’s hawkish approach towards the border state. The civilian-security personnel ratio presented a stark contrast to what the Vajpayee’s admirers believed of him. Vajpayee in his six years of rule made no efforts towards demilitarization of Kashmir.

Demilitarization, as one must remember is a prerequisite to pave the way for the formation of a constituent assembly, to decide on the sovereignty of people of Kashmir. Kashmir’s accession to India was subject to this binding clause in the Instrument of Accession signed between Raja Hari Singh & the government of India. It is one of those outstanding jobs of the partition that has only caused the agony of partition to carry on.

Vajpayee’s dealings with Pakistan were marked on at least four major occasions. Two of which namely the bus journey to Lahore and Agra summit with Perwez Musharraf were indeed significant gestures but inconclusive so far as the resolution of territorial dispute concerned. While the trips served not more than palatable optics, the stab on the back dealt by Pakistan in the interim brought to square one whatever little hopes of peace they generated. Further to this it added to the public angst and routed NDA out of power not to be re-elected for another decade to come. Vajpayee as was evident had played his last innings.

Another BJP stalwart whose fate was conclusively sealed after his brush with Pakistan was Lal Krishna Advani. Advani who along with Vajpayee had spent decades building the party, had to step down from the post of party president after he visited Jinnah’s tomb during one of his Pakistan visit. His fall was later accelerated nearly a decade later by his own disciples the Modi-Shah duo, who were keen to dethrone him as the Hindutva ideologue and limit him to the party’s Margdarshak Mandal.

Jaswant Singh, yet another BJP member suffered bad luck even when his only connection with Pakistan was his book Jinnah: India-Partion-Independence. Singh in his book appreciated certain facets of Jinnah’s personality which as things turned out was too much to bear for the BJP. He was removed from the party disgracefully, bad enough for the person who had served as Union defense minister in the Vajpayee cabinet. Jaswant Singh didn’t take it lying down and stood his ground over the content of his book. In the general elections held in 2014 he fought as an independent but lost to the BJP’s candidate. His son Manvendra Singh who is a sitting BJP MLA, left the party and is fighting on a Congress ticket against Chief Minister VasundharaRaje in the ongoing assembly elections.

When it comes to resolving the Kashmir dispute, the last sincere effort took place hours before Nehru’s death. Nehru gave Sheikh Abdullah complete authority to arrive at a final agreement with Pakistan viz-a-viz the status of Kashmir. Abdullah travelled to Islamabad and is said to have convinced president Ayub Khan over the draft agreement. Later, minutes before a joint announcement between the two leaders was planned, the news of Nehru’s death broke. The announcement got deferred and the agreement never came in effect.

With Nehru’s death even the contours of the arrangement died, forever to remain a mystery. Abdullah returned and reached Delhi with gloom writ large on his face. Once outside Teen Murti house, where Nehru’s mortal remains were kept, he got inconsolable. In his grief he foretold that the Kashmir dispute would never be resolved, now that the only person genuinely concerned about the issue had died.

[Md. Aariz Imam is a political commentator.]

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