By Saurabh Gandhi
Edited by Nidhi Singh, Junior Editor, The Indian Economist
Last year in September, when Mr. Modi was not yet in the corridors of power in Delhi, he had targeted the then UPA government with regard to its policy towards Pakistan. He said, “When Pak beheaded our soldiers we fed Pak PM with chicken biryani. We could have told Pakistan PM that the meeting can wait? No, but the Centre lacks that courage“. He was referring to the cruel beheading of our soldiers earlier that year. Contrast this with his tweet after becoming the PM: “Nawaz Sharif ji has sent a wonderful white Sari for my Mother. I am really grateful to him & will send it to my Mother very soon.” This tweet came after Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif attended Mr.Modi’s swearing in ceremony along with other SAARC heads of state as part of a special (and a welcome one too) diplomatic gesture on Modi’s part. However, the irony is just unmissable.
Nobody would disagree that the beheading of our soldiers is not a matter to be taken lightly and as the man leading the charge of the opposition, Mr. Modi was well within his right to question the government. However, the tone and tenor of Mr. Modi while in opposition and now, when he is in government couldn’t have been more different. Surely, his effort to bring together all the heads of state of SAARC countries brings about freshness in Indian foreign policy which was lying low in the far end of the previous government’s tenure but then the sudden mellowness in his attitude towards Pakistan cannot be passed unnoticed.
Even if we grant him the little rhetoric that politicians are entitled to in the course of elections, one cannot just say that Mr. Modi always had this attitude towards Pakistan. His speeches had a perfect mix of rhetoric, melodrama and facts to raise the emotions of nationalism in the minds of the Indian voters. Who could disagree with him when he questioned the UPA government’s attitude towards Pakistan if he juxtaposed UPA offering biryani to Pakistan PM with our soldiers being beheaded at the border? This coupled with BJP’s stress on portraying Mr. Modi as a strong leader was to make the Indian voter think that India would have a PM who would not believe in photo-ops or biryani-sharing but would rather be strong in his foreign policy approach. His comments on Bangladeshi migrants and his ‘looking in the eye remark’ towards India’s neighbors certainly filled a spirit of nationalism in the Indian voter, who voted overwhelmingly for him.
But what has been his attitude while in government? Let us first put in a caveat. It has just been two months since he has been in power, so this is no critical analysis of his foreign policy. In fact, there would have been no need for this article had it not been due to some events and circumstances. Apart from his invitation to Pakistan PM to his swearing in ceremony (add to that the sari and twitter diplomacy), there are a couple of other events that throw light into the manner in which this government will handle diplomatic issues.
Just go back a little in time. Imagine there is a freelance journalist who is a Congress sympathizer. Congress is in government. That freelance journalist goes on to meet Hafiz Saeed, the 26/11 accused. What would have been the BJP and more importantly, Mr. Modi’s reaction? Outrage, don’t you think so? Now, just replace Congress with the BJP in all the lines above and guess what Mr.Modi’s reaction was? Silence. Yeah, the External Affairs Minister condemned the incident but then if the BJP had been in opposition, they would have surely stroked the political world and raised the issue of nationalism, immediately declaring the Congress not nationalistic enough.
The politics of nationalism is not confined to the BJP though. The Congress used the occasion to disrupt both the Houses of Parliament. It also targeted the BJP government over its attitude towards the numerous ceasefire violations that have occurred ever since it came to power. In fact, it can be said that whenever a party is in the opposition, it tries to portray itself as more nationalistic than the party in power, thereby declaring itself as the better alternative to rule the nation. The point that needs to be driven home is that political parties will resort to rhetoric in the elections to use the spirit of nationalism to their advantage because one does not simply get votes by saying, “We will take a considered view over issues as and when they arise.” So, it won’t be fair to put all the blame on the politicians. The Indian electorate has to move ahead of this rhetoric over nationalism.
A commerce graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, Gandhi is a politics enthusiast. He has been an intern at Youth-Ki-Awaaz and has a keen interest in current affairs. Innovation in India’s education system and gender equality are issues which are very close to his heart. When not following news, he is either reading or crossing movies off his “To see list”. A self confessed social media addict, Gandhi can be reached on Twitter @saurabhgandhi92. Call him mad and he will love you for the rest of your life.