Sunday, July 12, 2015

The strange case of liberal secularists on the one hand, and BJP’s Hindutva right-wingers on the other, bending over backwards in wanting to be on the friendliest of terms with Pakistan

New Delhi: The liberal English newspapers and television news channels declared that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Pakistan at the invitation of his Pakistan Nawaz Sharif. It is a nuanced untruth. It is true that Modi will go to Pakistan in 2016. It is true that Sharif invited Modi when he met the Indian prime minister on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting at Ufa in Russia on Friday (July 10). But the fact that has been relegated to the background is that Modi’s visit to Pakistan will not be a bilateral state visit. He will be attending the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit to be held in Pakistan next year. Sharif extended Modi an invitation to attend the SAARC summit.

As always happens at all the SAARC summits, it will be the Sharif-Modi meeting in Islamabad in 2016 that will dominate headlines. It happened at the SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2004. It was the Pervez Musharraf-Atal Bihari Vajpayee meeting that overshadowed everything else. It was the joint statement issued then, where it was stated that Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used by terrorists to attack India which was flaunted as the trophy of Indian diplomacy. It was then national security adviser and principal secretary in Vajpayee’s PMO, Brajesh Mishra’s talks with the Pakistan intelligence officials that made the news. Asked about his meetings at a press briefing, Mishra said in jest that he had been meeting with intelligent people.

It should not come as a surprise then if the Sharif-Modi summit that will make news in Islamabad in 2016 and the SAARC summit will be mentioned in passing. The Indian liberal media will play an important role in eliding SAARC from the news of the day next year.

It is interesting to look at the idealistic motivations of the liberal secularists in the media and outside in desiring to promote friendly bonding with Pakistan. They will spout the pre-Independence rhetoric of how the people of India and Pakistan share culture, language, customs and what not. They feel but they do not say that India-Pakistan bonding will be an eloquent expression of Hindu-Muslim unity and that of secularism. It has to be clarified that for these Indian liberal secularists it is the multi-religious, and more importantly Hindu-Muslim, ‘bhaichara (fraternity)’, that is the definition of secularism. It is indeed the funny Indian distorted definition of secularism! The liberal secularist Hindus in India cannot bring themselves to forget that they are Hindus, and they seek the friendliest of ties with the Muslims. The Muslim liberal secularists in India seem to entertain the sentiment that one of the best ways of safeguarding the lives and property of Muslims in India is to promote India-Pakistan bonhomie. The Indian Muslims want to elide the political distortion of an Islamic state because they know that it does not serve the interests of Indian Muslims in any way.

The irony and surprise is that the Hindutva folk also express the same sentiment when they intone the Sanskrit phrase in the phonetically elided Hindi version, ‘sarv dharm sam bhaav’. But the deeper psychological motive is that Hindu right-wingers feel that after the Partition where a ‘Hindu’ India and a ‘Muslim’ Pakistan have been established, it is time to establish the superiority of ‘Hindu’ India over ‘Muslim’ Pakistan by extending the hand of friendship of the Big Brother to Pakistan. The Big Brother of course is ‘Hindu’ India. If Pakistan were to turn its back on India, the Hindutva right-wingers will feel a sense of defeat and humiliation. Their sense of triumph lies in the fact that they can assert on a continuous basis the advantage of ‘Hindu’ India over ‘Muslim’ Pakistan.

It is all then a case of infantile play-acting where the two ideologically opposed groups in India – the liberal secularists and the Hindutva right-wingers – are frantic over improving ties with Pakistan.

It would be interesting to know what different ideological groups in Pakistan feel about ties with India. What are the strategic and diplomatic calculations of Pakistan’s establishment – the political leaders and the army – in pushing for closer ties with India, if they are really looking for it. What is the motivation of the civil society groups for desiring friendship with India?

The possible psychological motivation of the Pakistan establishment to have ties with India is that it wants to show that Pakistan can stand up to ‘mighty’ India without any fear, and that it can even push India on to the back foot on occasions. Pakistan’s liberals seem to feel that better relations with India can happen if there is democracy in Pakistan. Democracy would mean that the liberals can breathe free. The domination of anti-India Pakistan army and other right-wingers, including the Islamic right-wingers, would mean a suffocating political and social atmosphere inside Pakistan.

But the motives of the different groups on both sides are flawed at the level of principles as well as that of practice. Indian liberals and secularists will have to realise that India’s secularism cannot be ratified through friendship with Pakistan. Secularism will have to find its own roots inside the country. The Hindu right-wingers should look beyond Pakistan, and understand that playing Big Brother in south Asia is not the way to establish India’s credentials as a Big Power in the world.

Pakistan’s establishment must understand that it is not necessary for Pakistan to stand up to India to prove its manhood as it were. Pakistan is an independent state and it must evolve its own ways to play a useful and important role in the affairs of the world as well as in South Asia. Pakistan’s liberals will have to create conditions for a liberal society and polity in their country on their own. They should not look to India.

India and Pakistan should deal with each other as two independent, sovereign states, and stop playing the games of sibling rivalry and jealousy with each other. They must try and become responsible members in the world and not take their old family feuds to the United Nations and other multi-lateral forums. For example, if India becomes the permanent member of the UN Security Council, the Hindu right-wingers should not interpret it as a victory over Pakistan, and Islamabad’s establishment should not see it as a diplomatic setback to Pakistan.

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