Happy birthday Nawaz!


December 30, 2015

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (left) and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi walk through a guard of honour in Lahore on Friday (AFP)

Taking everyone by surprise, Indian PM Narendra Modi dropped in to Pakistan for lunch on Christmas Day.

This signals a change in Modi’s approach towards dealing with the neighbour. World leaders may have convinced him of the need for regional stability. But he did it Modi-style.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi never fails to surprise. And, there are no more doubts that he loves to do it in his style.

Many may love it, many others may detest it. But, the man has his own way of delivering messages to whosoever it may concern. More so, as seen in recent times, in matters of foreign policy where he seems to keenly develop a personal rapport with an eye on future relations between India and the country of his attention. It is this approach that was resplendent when he dropped in from Kabul for lunch with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in Lahore before getting home for dinner.

The message to the world was clear. That he shared a rapport with Sharif and that he was prepared to take the right step to make up for calling off the talks of the national security advisors (NSAs) of the two nations. It was his call to deliver a message to Pakistan that it cannot be talking to the Hurriyat, Kashmiri separatists group, before every meeting between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s obstinacy about its talks with Hurriyat leaders has existed for long but it was Modi’s way of communicating that such interactions are despised by India. Such talks, in the past, had not made much of a difference to the relationship between the two countries. It was Pakistan’s way of insisting that without a resolution to the Kashmir issue, over which the two countries have fought three wars and continue to fight a proxy war, there could not be any seriousness attached to other talking points.

But, then, Modi was making it plain that his style was different. He was not prepared to play ball until Pakistan changed its approach. Critics across the spectrum did point out that keeping Pakistan engaged in talks was more critical than the symbolism of its talks with separatist leaders.

Of course, Modi’s partymen and supporters preferred to call all those critics unpatriotic and many other names. The change in Modi’s approach, obviously, came through during his foreign jaunts and chats with heads of other countries, including his friend Obama whom he prefers to publicly call ‘Barack’.

The fact that Modi accepted the practicality of the situation and decided to make amends, with humility being the watchword, is a good gesture considering that he believes in ignoring anyone who is opposed to him or does not accept his viewpoint. The first few indications of his shift came when the Ufa statement said that he would visit Pakistan in 2016 for the SAARC summit. This was followed by the meeting of the National Security Advisors (NSAs) in Bangkok without the glare of publicity, followed by the one-on-one chat with Sharif at the climate change talks in Paris.

Their chat - still being debated as to whether it lasted 120 seconds or 160 seconds is only indicative of the interest that it evoked - seems to have set the path towards resuming a dialogue. To a large extent, the visit of India’s External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, to Pakistan to attend a conference was taking the process towards formalising the resumption of talks just a small step further.

Despite this process being set into motion, nobody expected Modi to surprise everyone on Christmas day by flying over to Lahore to greet Sharif on his birthday. But, it would be naïve to look at his luncheon meeting with Sharif as an epoch making air dash by an Indian Prime Minister.

It is a symbolic gesture that would be tested in several ways considering that the road to fruitful talks has as many mines or even more than those placed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact, it is those mines that appear to be making the two countries come under pressure from the super powers to settle down to some kind of an understanding in dealing with the emerging situation in Afghanisation. One of the most significant statements of Modi has, indeed, come from his Kabul speech where he opened the new building of the Afghan Parliament, which India constructed. He made the simple point that if fires engulf Afghanistan, it would singe the entire region, not just Afghanistan.

This is, possibly, one factor that has been made clear by the super powers to the Pakistani army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, as well because if reports from that country are to be believed the non-civilian ruler of Pakistan, described also as the deep state, has been briefed about the necessity of resuming talks with India.

The bigger concern to the superpowers as well as to India and Pakistan is that the situation in Afghanistan should not be allowed to reach a point wherein the Islamic State (IS) gets a foothold like Al Qaeda did on the previous occasion. In other words, it means that for regional security, both India and Pakistan would have to play a role in the re-building of Afghanistan. There would also be some economic benefits accruing to both the countries if the land route from Afghanistan is cleared through Pakistan for India as well.

Therefore, it was in the interest of regional security that both the countries talk to each other. This certainly does not preclude the Pakistanarmy backed banned terrorist organisations like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa of Hafiz Saeed from getting its terror machinery activated like it has happened every time there is some kind of dialogue beginning to happen between India and Pakistan.

The only saving grace now would be that nobody in the world can turn around and say that the Indian Prime Minister should have taken the initiative to have talks with Pakistan to avert the terror machinery from getting activated. That is what Modi has gained for India, at least, for now. You can call it negative insurance.

Divide and rule

There are times when one wonders what norms recruiters in Britain of the 19th century followed to send officers to India. And, whether they went through a test in logical thinking and application in the process of making laws before being sent to the colony called India. Take a look at this case.

A Christian woman in what are now two districts of the southern state of Karnataka lacked the right to inherit property from her father as per the Succession Act of 1865 (yes, it is 1865). The law covered the districts of Mysuru (called Mysore earlier) and Kodagu, earlier known as Coorg state. And, the only authority to exempt anyone from this discriminative section was the Governor-General who could do so for ‘any race, sect or tribe’.

So, when a coffee planter, M F Pinto, wanted to give away his coffee plantation to his children, which included his lone daughter, his three sons quoted this 100-plus years old law. Pinto was, however, determined enough to tell his daughter, Arlene Pinto, to challenge the law.

She, of course, did not have to go to the court but a member of parliament, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who communicated the issue to the right people in the government so that the discriminating section was removed from the Act. It is true that the British system of checks and balances in the administrative system did make its own positive contribution to Indian democracy after the long freedom struggle ended in Independence.

But, it is still amazing how the British managed to send such personnel... not to ignore some brilliant souls whose contribution for eternity has been etched in stone... to govern its colony. Who would have wanted to deny inheritance rights in a community, in the first place, and then in just neighbouring areas? For whose benefit? These are questions that arise whenever such issues come to the fore. The divide and rule policy has been the bane of most troubles in the sub-continent as well.

Tailpiece

Various international studies during the last few years have been reporting that sudden deaths due to cardiac arrests are increasing.

And, there are also studies now that say there are clear signs of a cardiac arrest happening, at least, four weeks in advance. These signals could include breathing difficulties, chest pain, palpitation, abdominal pain, back pain, sudden drop in blood pressure or nausea or loss of consciousness. Invariably, it is ignored because of over-confidence that such things cannot be happening to me because one exercises, eats healthy food etc etc.

The studies have also shown now that it is quite possible to prevent cardiac arrests by recognising these signs and getting help before facing sudden cardiac death or SCD. There may be friends and relatives who may call you a hypochondriac, but it is better to ignore those comments and go through the necessary tests to feel reassured. This could well be a good enough activity as a new year sets in. Happy 2016!