Turbulent times ahead for Modi
By : Rajeev Sharma
Turbulent times are ahead for Narendra Modi, if the first 24 hours in the office is any indication.
On the first full day of his work as India’s 15th Prime Minister Modi held “substantive talks” with eight foreign leaders who attended his swearing-in on Monday, to use the phrase of Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh. These included seven leaders from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Mauritius premier. But one foreign leader who was the central attraction was undoubtedly Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Modi has been praised for his bold diplomatic initiative by the American media, the same media who has been highly critical of him for well over a decade for his alleged sins of omission and commission in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002.
The Modi government can take succor from the fact that Sharif returned home without firing any torpedoes at Modi and India. On the contrary, Sharif said all goody-goody things and steered clear of all contentious issues. This is a rarity in India-Pakistan affairs.
But then everyone knows that the real power vests in the other Sharif as far as Pakistan is concerned — Gen. Raheel Sharif, Chief of Pakistan Army. It remains to be seen how the Pakistan Army would adjudge Nawaz Sharif’s working visit to India.
The proof of the pudding is in eating and Modi would know in the coming weeks whether his 50-minute talks with Sharif served as an important course correction in Indo-Pak bilateral affairs or whether it was just a flash in the pan.
Similarly, Modi’s talks with other foreign leaders too were more in the nature of familiarization than seriously taking up core outstanding issues with each of these leaders from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Mauritius. It will take months to arrive at a determination whether these meetings were just courtesy calls and mere talking shops or whether any substantial diplomatic gains accrue from these.
The people of India voted for Modi for more mundane reasons like a turnaround in the economy, creation of millions of jobs, making India a global investment haven, massive boost to infrastructure and giving a corruption-free government that actually governs.
These are the immediate tasks before Modi as all these issues directly impact the common man. His political graph will go up or come down on the basis of his concrete deliverables on common man-centric issues rather than foreign policy, which affects or even interests the majority of Indians the least.
In his maiden Cabinet meeting, which he presided over as the premier, Modi set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to bring back black money believed to be stashed away abroad in humongous numbers. Chiefs of central agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Financial
Intelligence Unit (FIU) will be part of this SIT headed by Justice M.B. Shah.
According to a government press note, “The SIT has been charged with the responsibility and duties of investigation, initiation of proceedings and prosecution in cases of Hasan Ali and other matters involving unaccounted money.”
The SIT will have jurisdiction in cases where investigations have commenced, are pending, are waiting to be initiated or have been completed. But then the Modi government can hardly claim credit for this move. On the contrary, it was a directive of the Supreme Court, which had last week given one week’s time for setting up the SIT.
However, there is one solid move that the Modi government can be credited with but then it pertains to a highly sensitive and controversial issue of withdrawing special status given to Jammu and Kashmir through Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.
Hours after Modi’s inauguration, Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, came up with a highly controversial statement.
Singh went on record with this statement to a private TV channel: “The process of repealing Article 370 has started. We are speaking to the stakeholders.” Singh’s statement hints at the BJP’s well-known larger agenda, which the party has been trying unsuccessfully for decades. Again, the people of India had voted on the sole plank of development and clean government rather than raking up controversial issues like the repeal of Article 370.
The minister elaborated on this point at length.
Sample his remarks: “The BJP has won more than half of the seats from Jammu and Kashmir. So we will interpret this as an endorsement of the BJP’s stand. Article 370 is more like a psychological barrier … Article 370 has done more harm than good. The youth of Kashmir has to be convinced about this. That’s why the honorable PM has called for a debate. Having a debate doesn’t mean we have deviated from what we promised. It just means convincing those who are not convinced.”
The Modi government would be stirring a hornet’s nest and inviting trouble in hordes for itself if it continued to focus on any issues other than development. Repealing Article 370 requires amending the Constitution and the Constitution can be amended only if both the houses of the Indian Parliament pass a proposal with two-thirds of majority. The BJP does not have two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha and not even a simple majority in the Rajya Sabha where the Congress is the largest party.
It is for the BJP to decide whether it has time to waste on this issue and that too when its government has just taken over. However, it is another issue that it may just project that it tried to fulfill its promise but failed.
The writer is a New Delhi-based independent journalist and a political commentator who tweets @Kishkindha