Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Apprehensively Optimistic



As Narendra Modi begins his tenure as Prime Minister of India, I find myself in the unaccustomed position of wishing a right-wing leader well. The stakes in South Asia are simply too high for partisanship, and there are certain things that only someone like Narendra Modi can do on the Indian side – just as only Nixon could go to China and only Begin make peace with Egypt. I hope Mr. Modi has the wisdom to see this and the courage to act. On the Pakistani side, Nawaz Sharif is probably better placed to act towards rapprochement than the previous government of the Pakistan Peoples' Party, but I'm not sure he has enough freedom to act. Recent weeks have demonstrated that the strings of power in Pakistan are still pulled by invisible actors who are ruthless, rigid and unburdened by conscience. However, there is a little room for hope. Though the Nawaz government was not able to stand up fully to the assault from the Deep State in the matter of Geo TV, it did not completely buckle under either. Its surrogates pushed back forcefully – if only verbally – and a degree of moral support for Geo was orchestrated from the chattering classes. The clash is far from settled, but if the Nihari Caucus emerges from this with some sort of settlement (the technical term in Pakistan is “muk-muka”), they may find the guts to move on the infinitely more important issue of rationalizing relations with India.

A lot will also depend on whether the Modi government will have the fortitude to remain rational in the face of provocations that will surely come their way from both the Pakistani Deep State and their own right-wing. Only a strong government can resist the temptation to lash out, but this is the strongest government India has had in decades. I, for one, actually hope that, during their meeting, the two prime ministers hatched some secret plots and set some hidden agendas, for in this age of screaming TV pundits, the surest indication of serious ideas is that they cannot be revealed in public.

A friend asked me how I felt about the outcome of the Indian elections. My answer was "apprehensively optimistic". That's where we are today. May the apprehensions diminish and the optimism grow!