Prime Minister Modi should be upfront as before on national security issues as the common Indian’s concerns for a safe nation override even economic problems.
It needs to be reiterated that the advent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 proved to be a transformative event only because the people at large—fed up as they were with the permissiveness of corruption and lack of governance—saw in Modi a leader who could deliver because of his image as a man of personal integrity, capacity to administer a bureaucracy-ridden system with a strong hand and the trait of decisiveness. This led to many voters outside of the hard core loyalists of India’s caste and community-based parties to support him in the 2014 general election. The popular perception about Prime Minister Modi has held so far. However, some current developments have the potential of clouding the fact that Modi derived strength from being a leader of his own type who could stay the course envisaged by him. A policy shift made by him under some moral pressure built by the political opponents—who glorified a particular era of the past—can be in order only if he consciously did it as a course correction.
Prime Minister Modi faces a new kind of political challenge today. The atmospherics built around the demise of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the attack in unison made by the Opposition and the lobby of peaceniks on Modi’s Pakistan policy and the evident advocacy of “political moderation” by many in the ruling party establishment itself, have all apparently put the focus on Prime Minister Modi’s intrepid style of working and the affective rebuttal of Opposition’s criticism that he was known for. Tributes to Vajpayee were turned by many into a veiled or explicit discounting of the Modi regime’s approach to problems, as well as his attitude towards opponents. The event was also used as a prop to step up attack on his handling of India-Pakistan relations in general and the Kashmir problem in particular. The chorus of anti-Modi rant was that being “humane: like Vajpayee meant abandoning the “muscular” policy of “talks and terror cannot go together”.
It may be recalled that the short rule of Vajpayee in 1996, when BJP had for the first time risen to be the single largest party in a national election, caused such a stir in Indian politics that everybody joined hands against him at that point of time. Later, when he ran a coalition government, he befriended the Opposition and adopted a conciliatory approach even towards a hostile Pakistan on the plea that “you cannot change your neighbour”. The Kargil war of his time was the outcome of a covert offensive and was to set the course of the “proxy war” that has been pursued by Pakistan ever since using indoctrinated terrorists as its main instrument. If the Lahore Bus Yatra of Prime Minister Vajpayee was worth giving another try, Prime Minister Modi did that by making a surprise visit to Lahore to greet Nawaz Sharif on his birthday. Modi’s Pakistan policy after the attack on Pathankot airbase by Pakistani terrorists was, however, pitched on the new reality that India is dealing with a “rogue neighbour”. The anti-Modi forces, while talking of peace, do not have a word against the Pakistan-sponsored terrorist violence in the Valley.
It is a matter of concern that thanks to the Opposition—and this includes the episode of Navjot Singh Sidhu hugging the Pakistan Army Chief at Islamabad and Imran Khan as the new Prime Minister of Pakistan denouncing the critics of Sidhu in India—Pakistan seems to have become a player in the domestic politics of India in the run up to the next general elections. An ambiguity is being created about whether Pakistan-sponsored terrorism was a threat to India at all. The responses of Prime Minister Vajpayee related to the politics of his time. What Prime Minister Modi has to face is an adversary in the neighbourhood who wants India to yield to the pressure of terrorist violence to get its way on Kashmir. Notes of comparison with the “Vajpayee era of humanism” dished out by the Opposition, the separatists and the pro-Pakistan peaceniks need not push the Modi regime towards an unnecessary exercise in emulation. Its success in isolating Pakistan in the democratic world led by the US, as a country fostering faith-based terrorism has made the Imran Khan-Pakistan army combine desperate about getting parity with this country through the process of “talks”.
Any regime has the conventional right to appoint men or women of its liking as Governors. While party veterans are often given those positions as a mark of recognition, there should be no hesitation in acknowledging that in the Indian context some of the states face threats like terrorism as in Jammu and Kashmir, revival of the secessionist movement as in Punjab or Maoism as in Chhattisgarh, and it would be an advantage to have civilians with the required knowledge base posted as Governors there to help the state suitably. In J&K, search of an alternate coalition would be a legitimate democratic exercise. Anybody could work on the “outreach” problem or the pursuit of development projects, but dealing with an administration known to be complicit in letting the separatists have their way or rendering assistance as a mentor in containing Maoist violence on the ground, would come easy only to persons who had special experience and maturity. If the appointment of a politician in J&K is meant to give a message of “moderation”—as a section of media points out”—its outcome will be keenly watched. As it is, the challenge of safeguarding Kashmir has been made more difficult by the escalation of violence planned by the Pakistan army-ISI under the new regime of Imran Khan.
Prime Minister Modi should be upfront as before on national security issues as the common Indian’s concerns for a safe nation override even his economic problems. The Modi regime should remain unambiguous about the threat of terrorism from Pakistan that exclusively targets India and undeterred by the propaganda of Pakistan apologists and opponents who are trying to enmesh a serious problem of external origin with our domestic politics for reasons of some electoral advantage. It must continue to keep security above politics and expose the pro-Pakistan elements trying to damage India’s national integrity. A turnaround for peace in J&K is the test as much of the success of India’s foreign policy as it is of our control on the internal security situation in that state.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau