Both nationally and internationally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tough approach to issues, which many interpret as sign of his bold and aggressive demeanour, is foxing the Opposition within and the world at large.
While former prime minister Manmohan Singh had the image of a weak but good-hearted leader who was prone to be pushed around, Modi is made of tougher material who takes his own decisions — right or wrong — and owns up responsibility.
Yet, the masses still love him and allow him leeway to make honest mistakes.
While nationally there is no better reflection of the Modi government’s inherent toughness than the manner in which the Central government has acted in the wake of abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, at the international level it is best reflected in the way India has responded to Malaysian and Turkish criticism of this country on the Kashmir issue.
In relations with Pakistan too, gone are the days of the typical, soft approach where India buckled under pressure and took excessive care of western sensitivities in responding to situations. Even now, the Modi government succumbs in certain situations but the message is loud and clear that this is a tough government that does not believe in molly-coddling especially when perceived national interest is involved.
It cannot be denied, however, that the country’s Kashmir policy has been characterised by ad hocism and lack of consistency. Whether the new toughness succeeds or fails, would depend upon how we take the Kashmir management forward. It is no mean pointer but the substantial budget allocation for Jammu and Kashmir is a reflection that the Modi government has a chance to right the wrongs to an extent.
Having repeatedly bungled on Kashmir front, and looked the other way when funds allocated to Kashmir were frittered away, there is no room for failures any more. There is an element of hopelessness among people in Kashmir that their lot will not improve regardless of the funds set apart for them. This time around, the basic thrust has to succeed or else there would be no road ahead.
That the Kashmir valley has been largely quiet and even Pakistan is wary of rubbing India on the wrong side is testimony to the impact of India’s new approach. India’s warning that any excesses by the Pakistan army and by Pak-inspired terrorists would face severe retaliatory action seems to have gone home to the Pakistanis. Attempts at infiltration are still undertaken but they are thwarted or met with greater resistance.
There is little point in looking upon the future with jaundiced eyes. The tough approach needs to be given a chance but measures for a healing touch must follow with a genuine spirit of benevolence and concern for the welfare of the people of the valley.
The surgical strikes on terrorist training camps before the last Lok Sabha polls first denied by the Pakistan establishment but then grudgingly accepted in a roundabout way, were a reflection of Pakistani awareness that India was not the same as it was under Dr Manmohan Singh’s prime ministership. A repeat of the same later and strong retaliatory action whenever there has been border action from the Pakistan side have had a salutary effect.
It must be recognised that in the last five years there have been no major terror strikes within India though infiltration bids are continuing to keep up the facade of fighting the Indian forces. True, Kashmir is seemingly quiet because of all-pervasive fear of authority but the valley was going out of India’s grip anyway. Now, there is a chance to usher in fast-paced economic development with a focussed approach and to wean the people away emotionally from the path of dissent.
What stood out in terms of international diplomacy was the manner in which Malaysia and Turkey were dealt with in the wake of their support of Pakistan when Kashmir was sought to be discussed in the U.N. Security Council where all other countries with the exception of China and Pakistan supported India’s Kashmir stand.
Action was indeed swift and decisive when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan propagated falsely at the United Nations that Kashmiris were “virtually under blockade with 8 million people, unfortunately, unable to step outside” and that there were massive protests in the Kashmir valley after the abrogation of Article 370. Turkey had clearly got swayed by Pakistani propaganda which was patently false and made no attempts to get to the genuine position.
Modi’s proposed visit to Turkey was called off as a symbolic snub. A $2.3-billion contract to a Turkish company, Anadolu Shipyard, to build support vessels for the Indian Navy was put on the chopping block. And in light of Turkey’s controversial invasion of northern Syria, which violated international law and breathed new life into Islamic State terrorists, India came out strongly with uncharacteristically blunt condemnation of Turkey’s illegal conduct.
Significantly, Pakistan is talking much less of a nuclear war than it did sometime ago. There is an element of wariness about contentious issues and a grudging acceptance of India’s tough posturing. Whether that is a result of the tough Indian attitude or that it is preparing for a big strike while it maintains relative silence is difficult to say. But there is a marked change on the surface.
With the Opposition notching up some successes internally against the BJP government, there is bound to be an effect on the stance of crucial countries towards India, but as of now this is in the realm of speculation. No one even remotely matches up to Modi’s charisma and acceptability abroad and that is a distinct advantage of his government.
The writer is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.