Every momentous development leaves behind a momentary echo. A memento so to speak. Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore was significant in many aspects. An Indian prime minister had not visited Pakistan for over a decade. And it left behind the compulsory tauba tauba moment. A reporter had assumed Modi’s entourage had been allowed to leave the airport without any travel documents and hence protested by repeatedly touching his ears and praying for forgiveness on live television. Funny business really, but it was also deeply embarrassing for us all.
Since we are talking about gaffes and tongue-in-cheek comments, let’s talk about the one that came from India. Ram Madhav, the BJP’s national general secretary, gave a mind-bogglingly dense interview to Al Jazeera, in which he hoped that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would one day reunite of their own volition and form Akhand Bharat (greater India). And Benjamin Button would keep aging backwards and finally disappear into nothingness. But why did Madhav feel compelled to say something this stupid? Is it because the BJP’s right-wing core feels helpless before the flip-flopping of its government? Is it because Modi believes in improvising and the rest want him to follow a script? Or is it because the BJP has veered so rightwards that it cannot reconcile itself to the exigencies of statecraft and hence is incapable of understanding why the party’s hawkish premier would give in to international pressure? We will probably never know. But to many Pakistanis who have remained sceptical of Indian intentions, this confirms their worst fears: that the Indian state and elite have still not accepted the creation of Pakistan.
Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee might have said what he did on accepting Pakistan’s creations when he came to Lahore, but the border between the two countries was often referred to as the Berlin Wall by many of his party members. Even today, when friends from across the border visit, they talk about making borders irrelevant. If you think the Congress party is any better, then you need to go through JN Dixit’s writings. Then I came across a blog by a gentleman who has recently served Sadruddin Hashwani as a ghostwriter. The gentleman would want us to go back to pre-Islamic civilisation and trading network in the region. See, even trade is political in South Asia. When ambition replaces compassion, you lose track of time sometimes, even the century, and distort everything to suit your agenda. The fact is that you cannot wish away Muslim legacy and influence from Indian history. Nor can you pretend that Pakistan is a reversible reality. I would have considered it an innocent example of nostalgia had I not seen how the Indian culture minister is trying to ‘cleanse’ India of Western influence too. Denial, most certainly, is a river in India. Another example is the human suffering in Nepal. The world’s silence on this has emboldened elements that believe that nobody would mind if India stifles or gobbles up a neighbour.
But such thoughts, despite being totally silly, can further exacerbate suspicion, paranoia, hatred and anger among the South Asian twins. It was a good initiative on the part of Modi to visit Lahore. It was a good decision by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to welcome him. Why poison it all? If truth be told, such stupid things will keep happening as long as the elites of the two sides remain obsessed with politics. Trade can build many bridges. But if someone thinks it can be used as a Trojan Horse to colonise countries, then they are fooling nobody but themselves. You might be a shark pal, but not the biggest one in the water. How about Akhand Asia, for instance, with its capital in Beijing? Or Akhand Prithvi with its capital in Washington, DC? And if it is about travelling back in time, how about travelling back to the Mughal era?
See, this won’t solve anything. The fact is that India is not a unity. It never was. Many nations live together to form what we call India today. Instead of eyeing its neighbours, it needs to focus on retaining what it has got. Much bigger powers have been destroyed in the past owing to ceaseless ambition. Peace can be built if it is an end in itself and not just a means to achieve something else.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2016.