Making good on the fighting words from the ramparts of the Red Fort
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s raising of Balochistan and Gilgit- Baltistan in his Independence Day address has left the New Delhi-based foreign policy establishment confused, even as it has riled both Islamabad and its all-weather ally Beijing. Not sure what to make of the extraordinary insertion of a new prong in the hitherto familiar Indo-Pakistan relationship, even the opposition Congress are groping for a considered response.
Whether or not Modi was right in the new and aggressive line of attack against a perennially belligerent Pakistan, and whether it was prudent to mention Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in the same breath with Balochistan, there is no denying that he has overnight injected a new element in the tormented ties with Pakistan.
Indeed, by asserting a claim to Gilgit-Baltistan he may have also put on notice China which has a huge presence in the area and proposes to build the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor through it.
Paying for earlier blunders
India not protesting when Pakistan first ceded control of territory in Gilgit-Baltistan to China in the mid-60s was on par with the previous blunder of stoically putting up with the annexation of Tibet by China in 1950.
Accepting Tibetan refugees without getting China to settle the border dispute was a great opportunity lost.
India did not leverage such opportunities to its own advantage as subsequent developments revealed.
Meanwhile, the marked shift in the Indian stance comes at a time when Pakistan is engaged in fuelling violent protests in the Kashmir Valley, triggered by the encounter death of Burhan Wani, a local commander of the Pakistan-funded terrorist outfit early last month.
Having tried everything - from inviting the Pak PM to his swearing-in ceremony two years ago to making a grand gesture by breaking his return from Kabul to partake in the festivities on Nawaz Sharif’s daughter’s wedding - Modi has gone out of the way to be cordial towards Pakistan.
But, in return, he has only faced rude rebuffs. The Pathankot terror attack was probably the last straw, though here again he took the unusual step of allowing an ISI team to personally vet the handiwork of their jihadis. But all this to no effect.
Now, on the rebound, Modi seems to be abandoning the familiar policy followed by all his predecessors, including Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.
Breaking the familiar South Block mould, as it were, the PM chose to warn Pakistan from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Pakistan should first take out the plank from its own eye before it tells India to take out the small speck from hers. The point being that you cannot shake hands with a clenched fist, can you?
But the change of stance is a huge gamble. If it works, it will pay huge dividends domestically and internationally. If does not, there will be frustration at the return to the familiar yet failed on-now, off-now talks with Pakistan. While in the immediate the new stance is bound to inject more bitterness in the Indo-Pak relationship, the outcome of a newly muscular policy will depend on the actual follow-up action on the ground that India might choose to take.
Arranging to provide overseas-based Baloch and POK activists air time on the Indian television channels ought to be the first step in a whole series of actions to ensure that the Rawalpindi GHQ is discomfited enough to realise that what it does in Kashmir can happen with greater ferocity in various regions controlled by it.
When the gloves are off, there is no use maintaining the façade of diplomatese. The statements issued by the respective foreign offices in recent days already indicate the greater heat and tension between the two neighbours.
Modi had first hinted at the changed stance in the all-party meeting on Kashmir three days earlier. He specifically mentioned the POK in this session. Notably, contrary to the expectations of the opposition, no decision was taken to send an all-party delegation to Kashmir. This was the routine in earlier years whenever Kashmir witnessed a prolonged spell of violence.
No longer. Modi would rather deal with the chief instigator of such violence across the western border than mollycoddle those who are in any case proxies and agents of the ISI and its jihadi outfits.
Confusion in Congress
But Modi’s aggressive tone seems to have divided the Congress leadership. While the party spokesmen welcomed the references to Balochistan, POK, etc., in the I- Day address, former Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid publicly contradicted him, panning the PM for dragging in Balochistan.
In fact, Khurshid claimed that he was the more authentic voice of the party than Randeep Surjewala, the designated spokesperson of the Congress.
Again, the same disarray came through when another spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi denied that what P. Chidambaram said regarding Kashmir had official sanction. The former Home Minister chose to berate the Government wholly unmindful that he and his party had shaped the Kashmir policy for the longest period since Independence.
His latest gem was that for Kashmir to return to normalcy the Congress, the NC and the PDP ought to come together - as if the Congress had not supped with the two Kashmir-centric parties at any time before.
The latest Chidambaram pronouncement was of a piece with his earlier claim that the Armed Forces ( Special Powers) Act needs to be withdrawn for winning the trust of Kashmiris. In you believe him, he claims that he was just about to withdraw it himself when his party lost power.
Prohibition has few takers in Nitish’s Bihar
You did not need a hooch tragedy to warn Nitish Kumar about the pitfalls that lay ahead if he enforced complete prohibition in Bihar. Four months after he clamped prohibition, a policy which he believes will lead him to 7 Race Course Road on the back of votes by women, a bootleg industry has come to flourish in the state.
Regardless of the claims to the contrary, Kumar can do nothing to change the character of the police and the excise department nor can he wean away the poor from their addiction to cheap liquor overnight.
For proof, Kumar should look no further than his own legislators who continue to imbibe the heady stuff whenever they can, especially when out of Bihar. It seems prohibition is openly defied in the precincts of Bihar Bhawan. Some senior ministers fond of drinking privately pooh-pooh prohibition, often with a glass of liquor in hand.
It is public knowledge that a number of Janata Dal (U) leaders defy the ban almost every evening while in the national capital.
Meanwhile, the decision by the Bihar CM to give ₹4 lakh each to the next of kin of the hooch victims defies common sense. Is it his way to salve his own conscience for forcing them to drink the illicit brew while he nurtures his political ambition thanks to a senseless prohibition?
Rewarding the families of the poor victims might drive many more to imbibe the poisoned stuff.
Leaders sans followers
There is more to the recent elevation of Raj Babbar as UP Congress chief than meets the eye. He is not merely the proverbial dark horse hand-picked to quell claims by rival faction leaders. No.
After Babbar lost his deposit in the Lok Sabha polls in UP, his entry into the Rajya Sabha from Uttarakhand and the recent nomination as the UP Congress chief underline the fact that he has the blessings of a big corporate house which have all along wielded considerable influence over the Congress Party.
Babbar had begun his political innings with the late VP Singh. At the time he was a vitriolic critic of this corporate house, but eventually, he ended up becoming its not-so-secret ally. Indeed, he exploited his last phase with VP Singh to take sides with the stronger faction of the corporate house.
Otherwise, there is nothing in Babbar’s political career to suggest that he has the makings of a great leader. He was never an A-lister in Bollywood. Nor does he have the pulling power of, say, an Amitabh Bachchan, or, a Shah Rukh Khan.
As a senior BJP leader mocked a UP Congressman in the Central Hall, the party now has a Pradesh chief and a chief ministerial candidate, "But sir, where are your voters?."
Indeed, where is the Congress voter, never mind Prashant Kishor and his casteist gambits.
Virendra Kapoor is a Delhi-based journalist. The opinions expressed in this article may not reflect the views of Asianet Newsable and Asianet Newsable does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 6:45 PM