BRAVE OF NAWAZ SHARIF TO VISIT INDIA: TUFAIL AHMAD
Tufail Ahmad is a senior journalist of Indian origin. He has formerly worked for BBC Urdu Service. Currently, he is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). He is also a regular contributor to The New Indian Express. In an interview with Viewpoint, he discusses BJP’s victory in recent Indian elections and its implications for the Indian Muslims. In this context, he also analyses Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India to attend Prime Minister Narendara Modi’s oath taking. Read on:
Interview by Muhammad Akbar Notezai
This young population has rapidly growing aspirations, which only BJP’s Narendra Modi was able to understand. He successfully translated the aspirations of the youth into a national development agenda by promising to build 100 smart cities, to take broadband to villages, to introduce bullet trains and so on. In elections, political leaders who can read a nation’s changing political mood inevitably win. But it is also that the BJP could not have won this election with a decisive clear mandate as it finally did if Modi were not its prime ministerial candidate; Modi’s record in developing Gujarat helped the BJP a lot to register electoral victories across India.
What are your thoughts about the electoral defeat of the Indian National Congress (INC) and the left in these elections?
While the Team Modi was busy articulating a development agenda for the nation, the INC was busy articulating a divisive agenda. Even during the election campaign, the INC was talking of secularism and promising Muslims that it will grant them 5% percent quota in government jobs and educational institutions; everyone knows that reservation in the name of Islam cannot be granted in India because the constitution doesn’t allow any consideration of religion in state policy; also, the backward castes of Muslims already get reservation as part of the 27% percent quota reserved for Other Backward Castes. So, everyone knew that Congress was basically practicing a divisive politics of secularism to win votes.
This is the major distinction between the BJP on the one hand and on the other hand the Congress and other socialist parties such as the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Bahujan Samajwadi Party of Mayawati or Lalu Prasad Yadva’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. These parties are now failing to comprehend that India has changed radically over the past decade and the country’s younger population is no longer interested in divisive politics of secularism, casteism or regionalism. In fact, in the Indian political practice, secularism actually means communalism; the secular parties like the Congress have caused riots in order to divide Indians so as to win votes. The new population strongly identifies itself with the Indian nation – it is no longer interested in the traditional identities like caste and religion to be a factor in making political and social choices. This is also due to Americanization of Indian middle classes. So, while the Congress was engaged in the divisive politics of secularism, Modi avoided a communal language and advocated a more substantive politics through his slogan of “India First.” The Congress also must remember that democracies do not accept hereditary rule and it will be extremely difficult for Rahul Gandhi to be the prime minister without demonstrating his leadership capabilities to the public.
As for the Left, the communist parties have always been led by the upper caste leaders. Leaders from the lower orders of society have rarely found their way up. It was bound that the left parties will decline in popularity for their failure to comprehend the global political trends as well the interests of the common people in India. In Kerala, the Left parties have shown some understanding of the people’s interests and therefore remain relevant. But generally speaking, the Left leaders find no resonance among the people of India.
What are your thoughts on the visit of Pakistani prime minister to India?
Despite the attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to go to Delhi to grace the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was very brave on Sharif’s part because everyone knows that such a step could be sensitive to the military and other right-wing forces in Pakistan. In Delhi, Sharif was perceived as a statesman and very graceful, and his statements showed realism in his understanding of the bilateral relations.
Will Nawaz Sharif’s visit help cultivate cordial relations between the two countries?
Visits by leaders and diplomats to countries with which bilateral relations are conflicted do matter. Such visits remind people of both countries that there are problems as well as there are hopes for future. Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India may not bear immediate fruits, but it emphasized that Pakistan wants to genuinely address bilateral issues and forge better relations. Prime Minister Modi’s decision to invite Sharif also indicates that India realizes that neighbors cannot be changed and some relationship must always be maintained.
However, the key problem in the Pakistan-India relations is Pakistan’s own internal situation. Even if Prime Ministers Modi and Sharif want to improve the two countries’ relations and possibly win a Nobel Peace Prize, they cannot do so. Pakistan’s relationship with India will strengthen only if the Pakistani military stops interfering in the internal civilian affairs of Pakistan; it also means that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) must stop thinking that it is the ideological guardian of Pakistan and let the Pakistani people be the guardian of Pakistani nation state. The ISI must also stop nurturing jihadi groups, not only those based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATAs), but also those based in Bahawalpur and Muridke, respectively Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba. This will take a very long time.
However, in short term, the two countries are within the reach of beginning diplomacy of tomatoes, potatoes and onions. I will expect that both Pakistan and India put aside the contentious issues for the next generations and begin a realistic diplomacy of tomatoes, potatoes and onions. I will call this people’s diplomacy; ultimately we as human beings eat these items on a daily basis and this sort of realistic diplomacy should matter. It is within this realm that I see Sharif’s visit can herald some tentative progress, and India could supply electricity to Pakistan, which could supply gas to India.
In a recent interview, noted Indian author Arundhati Roy said : ‘The big industry poured millions into Modi’s election campaign’. Your comments
Arundhati Roy is a respected voice internationally and her statements should be taken seriously despite the fact that some leftist delusions do creep in most often. Roy is correct in saying that the big industry poured millions into Modi’s election campaign, but why to single out Modi alone for this attack? All political parties, both in India and elsewhere, receive millions of dollars from corporate sector, some of which is white money while a good part of it is always black money.
And this is the crux of the problem: democracies in the modern times are facing threats from excessive influence of business houses and there is a need to counter them; some legislation should be introduced to curtail such financing and also the state should partially finance the cost of election campaigns. Business houses are also exerting excessive influence on the media, which is not good for a democracy and which could be a big threat to weak democracies worldwide.
Should Indian Muslims be afraid of Modi government given Modi’s role in 2002 anti-Muslims riots in Gujrat?
Despite unprecedented scrutiny from India’s Supreme Court, Narendra Modi has not been held responsible for the 2002 riots in Gujarat. It should be kept in mind that all political parties in India are responsible for riots; the secular Congress is responsible for hundreds of riots through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. This is one point that Indian Muslims must remember.
But there is a problem with this formulation: Indian Muslims are not homogenous and they do not vote a single party. In 2014 elections, Muslims did vote BJP in some regions, notably in Delhi. But the Muslim behavior is not uniform. Even after the 1992 demolition of Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, the Muslims in southern states of India were relatively calm while those in the north felt angry. Muslims in India must keep in mind that they need to curb the politics of minorityism and secularism so that they can emotionally move forward and see things for facts, and realize that basically secular parties are using them for votes. Also, Muslims tend to unite in some constituencies to vote against BJP which cannot be called a secular behavior. If Muslims want Hindus not to unite, Muslims too must note unite, and instead vote the best candidate in the elections.
Another point Muslims must realize that India is passing through an outstanding moment in its history, which means there are burgeoning educational and economic opportunities – in fact such opportunities are on such a scale that no Islamic nation can offer to its citizens. If Muslims do not leave behind the divisive politics of secularism and quota, they cannot take advantage of these emerging economic and educational opportunities in India, and they will be left behind. The time for Indian Muslims is now to take advantage of the outstanding moment in India’s contemporary developmental history.
What are likely challenges for the Modi government?
The Modi government is likely to face challenges from three sources. First, an extremist fringe exists within the BJP and it might create challenges for Modi. However he is known for curbing extremist Hindu groups in Gujarat where his government demolished temples to widen roads despite Hindu opposition.
Second, the secular parties might create conflicts between communities to defame the Modi government. Such a conflict might also be created by some extremist Hindu groups. People expect the Modi government to simply enforce the rule of law.
Third, a challenge for Modi government might emerge on India’s international borders with Pakistan and China. Some forces inimical to India’s security might create problems on the border or within India through rented terror groups like the Indian Mujahideen or through expeditionary terrorism of 26/11 kind.
The Modi government’s success will be measured in a year from now, but mainly on its promise for development for all Indians. If he can deliver on the development promises, people will be willing to return him to power for a second term.