Years before, in an interview, Narendra Modi called for suspension of talks with Pakistan. “Yeh love letter likhna bandh hona chahiye (We should stop writing love letters),” he said.
In the bleak world of ambivalence and policy paralysis, Modi was widely accepted as a decisive leader due to his eloquence in the Lok Sabha election campaign. His ‘nationalist’, ‘India first’ campaign endeared him to the masses, whose contempt for Pakistan is easy to toy with. Led by him, the Bharatiya Janata Party rode to power with a brute majority in the lower house of the Parliament, leaving even lesser room for any equivocal foreign policy.
Yet, in his term as the Prime Minister, now in its final leg before the next elections, he has hardly brought a consistent policy with respect to Pakistan. Here are some major flip-flops of his government:
1. Shawl Diplomacy: The premiers of the SAARC nations were invited for the oath taking ceremony of Narendra Modi. Despite all the pre-election rhetoric, Nawaz Sharif was also invited. It seemed as if a new era had dawned in India-Pakistan relations. In the official Pakistan statement no reference to Kashmir was made. Modi gifted a shawl to Sharif’s mother while the latter reciprocated by presenting a saree to Modi’s mother.
2. Cold Shoulder: About a dozen ceasefire violations were committed by Pakistan in the next few months. In August 2014, the Pakistan High Commission’s decision to meet separatists before the official talks with India smothered relations further. In a knee-jerk reaction, India cancelled a meeting between foreign secretaries. The stalemate was palpable when a perfunctory handshake between Modi and Sharif did not translate into a full-fledged bilateral engagement in the SAARC meet at Kathmandu.
3. Return To The Soft Approach: Cross-border terrorism in the meanwhile continued. Jammu and Kashmir was disrupted by terrorists in Jammu ahead of the PM’s rally in the state. However on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Ufa in July 2015, quite intriguingly Modi along with Sharif reinstated the need to commence dialogue and engagement. A National Security Advisor level meeting was also scheduled for August.
4. No Talk Again: Within days of the call for talks in Ufa, Gurdaspur in Punjab and Udhampur in J&K were at the receiving end of terror attacks emanating from Pakistani soil. Following this, the meeting between NSAs was cancelled, as India stuck to pre-conditions that Pakistan could not agree to.
5. Climate Change: Sharif and Modi reiterated their commitment to the dialogue process in the Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015. Sushma Swaraj, the External Affairs Minister, went to Islamabad ahead of the ‘Heart of Asia’ conclave. Resumption of full-fledged talks, it seemed were in the offing. Narendra Modi’s surprise stopover in Lahore in December 2015 to greet PM Sharif personally was a historic moment. It seemed 2016 would finally break the ice between the two countries.
Within days of the visit, the Pathankot Air base was attacked by Pakistani militants, taking everyone by surprise. India, even agreed to have a joint investigation with Pakistan. However with Pakistan blaming India for the attacks, the relationship reached a point of no return.
India has clearly maintained a brawny stance since then. On the Independence Day speech of 2016, the Prime Minister raked up the issue of Baloch separatism from the ramparts of the Red Fort. The vicious cycle of violence and terror has continued unabated. In fact, Pathankot was followed by Uri, which led to the controversial surgical strikes. The battle has escalated to the United Nations General Assembly, where India and Pakistan were seen crossing swords. PM Modi personally took on the responsibility of naming and shaming Pakistan overtly or covertly in a number of international conferences and interactions with the Indian diaspora. In 2017, the incarceration of Kulbhushan Jadav in Pakistan once again triggered tensions between the two countries.
Dealing with Pakistan, a country founded on the principles of anti-India, anti-Hindu rhetoric is an uphill task. Other PMs have also straddled between the pacifist and belligerent approach. However, as Yogendra Yadav suggested recently, Modi fails to distinguish PR (Public Relations) from IR (International Relations). It seems the Prime Minister is merely possessive of a carefully constructed image than engaging in the intricacies of diplomacy.
The author is a part of the Youth Ki Awaaz Writers’ Training Program.