LAHORE - A lively discussion was conducted on Sunday by the Pakistan Visionary Forum (PVF) at the Tech Club in the Tax Society over the emerging scenario in the wake of overwhelming electoral victory of BJP and the prospects of Narendra Modi’s likely posturing towards Pakistan. Fiction writers, intellectuals, former bureaucrats and a judge of superior judiciary were among the participants.
The discussion kicked off with narration of an interesting incident by M Zubair Sheikh, a businessman who has been regularly visiting India and interacts with Indians from different spheres of life. When Modi visited Rajasthan, he put on virtually every cap and head gear worn by followers of different religions settled there as a mark of solidarity. When he was given the cap that Muslims wear while offering prayer, he declined point-blank. When asked why he did not put it on, he replied that Jawaharlal Nehru as well as other Indian leaders did not choose to wear it.
Mr Zubair then compared the present situation with that of BJP under Vajpayee. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was elected prime minister of India, the fear of a hostile Indian government ready to take on Pakistan was played down by accentuating the poet in Vajpayee, he said. Those who threw up this impression turned out to be wrong by subsequent events. He then went on to narrate an incident which he had personally witnessed on his recent visit to India. Immediately after BJP’s victory, he said he had heard common Indians in the street chanting a slogan, “Modi has won. Now the time has come to teach Pakistan a lesson.” Mr Zubair argued that Modi is not just a paper tiger, what he has been saying against Pakistan constitutes a real danger.
At this stage, Dr Mugheesuddin Shiekh, former chairman of PU’s Mass Communication department, chipped in. He put a couple of questions to the panellists. He started off by asking if Modi had been able to win because of being pro-development or simply because he was way too charismatic or because of changing contours of Indian secularism. Finally, he rounded up his remark with the question whether BJP’s heavy election win means India is bidding farewell to its much trumpeted secularism.
Response to these questions came from Mr Zubair Sheikh who said that although it was true that Modi has done a lot of development work in Gujarat, it was also a matter of reality that BJP in that region had been working against the interests of Muslims. In order to further illustrate his point, he gave a little history of Modi and the family he came from. Modi’s parents were dirt-poor. His father used to run a Thela (a roadside kiosk). When he first stood for elections in Varanasi, those supporting him were also running a tea stall. Mr Zubair said that this was the reason why the poverty stricken Indians also associate with him and the reason why Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) could not upstage the BJP. He said that apart from that Modi had also dished big favours to his friends while election campaign was extremely aggressive. Finally, he said that more than anything, Indian elections had proved that Indian voter was driven by religious fundamentalism.
A lady panellist (a fiction writer) who did not like to be named said that it is Pakistan which needed to be aware of what is happening on media front across the border. She regretted that not a single Pakistani channel was shown in India. She made the revelation that a well-known Indian media group had shares in a major private Pakistani TV channel. She highlighted the need to wage war on intellectual and media front rather than a practical war.
Former minister of state and columnist Qayyum Nizami said that this was the first time ever that Congress had been slapped with such a huge defeat as it could grab hold of 44 seats only. But, Pakistan did not need to be afraid under the given situation since it had nuclear capability, he opined. He was of the view that it was the Muslims of India itself who would be at the receiving end of Modi’s antics for the next five years. He also explained that too much fear on part of Pakistan was misplaced since traditionally PPP enjoyed warm relations with Congress while PML-N had friendly relations with BJP. The PML-N government led by Nawaz Sharif, who also rang up Modi to congratulate him, will be able to forge peaceful bilateral ties with the new government. So far as AAP was concerned, he said that previously it had been able to steal a victory in Delhi only but when it came to national elections, it crumbled in front of the BJP largely owing to its political philosophy that did not have mass popular appeal. Given the dynamics of the Indian electoral politics, to think that a politician like Kejriwal would ever ascend to the premiership is a folly, he opined.
Another panellist Maj (r) Shabbir Ahmed, former additional director general of Intelligence Bureau, raised the momentum of the discourse strangely by making just one statement. He said that Modi had joined RSS when he was just eight years old.
Jameel Gishkori, a poet and a writer said that the BJP had made it more than clear that it will be hostile towards Pakistan as well as China and that it has been constantly harping about that it will not talk to Pakistan unless it initiates action against the terrorists. He was of the view that this was likely to be BJP’s stance towards Pakistan.
The discussion was then taken over by Justice (r) Sharif Hussain Bokhari who explained that instead of fearing Modi too much it should be realised that every state has its compulsions. And since India as a state too has its compulsions such as trade with Pakistan and having access to transit trade route, it will tend to have good ties with Pakistan. But he said that it should also be understood that while both the countries had their respective establishment, in India its role had been more pronounced like in the case of Rajiv-Benazir parleys over Siachen ending up in the Indian army’s refusal to budge an inch. Similarly, he said that in the recent case when the Pak-India governments initiated a plan to withdraw forces from Siachen, the Indian army again asserted itself over the Congress government.
So far as the trajectory in which India was drifting, he said that it should be noted that this was the first time in India’s history that no Muslim contestant from UP had been able to win a seat in the parliament, although it happens to be a state that has an overwhelming number of Muslims.
Justice Bokhari’s said that to have good relations with India and to make Modi pay heed to what Pakistan has to say, we should strengthen ourselves, get rid of Taliban by whichever way possible and build ourselves economically.