This is how it happens in world’s biggest democracy when peace building measures are about to taken. Controversies are spun and mayhem is created to discourage the approaching peace. Thus, decades of arch-rivalry spills nothing but blood and hate. Still, the enigma hasn’t solved.
Navjot Singh Sidhu was invited by his cricketing friend and Prime Minister of Pakistan on his oath taking ceremony. Sidhu was not the only one who received this privilege as many of Imran Khan’s friends were also invited to Pakistan on this auspicious occasion. Imran Khan has been enjoyed glorious fame and following in India due to his cricketing charisma and charity work.
By placating old hostilities and welcoming new beginnings, it could be a tipping point for India and newly elected government of Pakistan to come to table for peace talks had Indian media not maligned the friendly gesture of Sidhu. The hyper-nationalist media of India has smeared this meet up as conspiracy and a politically motivated act. This brouhaha on Sidhu’s meet up with Pakistani politicians and particularly to Chief of Army Staff indicated two profound aspects of Indian mindset.
First, the political class of India is largely driven by Indian media that influence and shape up their narratives. In this particular case, anchors provoked politicians to take action against Sidhu. The statement from BJP members came later once Indian media has fomented hatred. It depicts that world’s biggest democracy is dependent on electronic media to devise decisions on crucial issues. This ruckus has also marred the secular face of India where dissent is not tolerated. Rather than to be seen it as peace process, Sidhu’s visit to Pakistan was presented as an act of treason by Indian media. How could this be anticipated from a secular state that brands itself as tolerant, pluralistic and democratic to the world? But there are always exceptions. India, despite showing to the world its soft image, often shows myopism when it comes to stabilizing relations with Pakistan.
Second, the rigid elements in Indian society are unequivocally more fanatic than any other such elements in South Asia. One of the fresh instances of this intolerance is a person from a radical organisation of India announces head money of Sidhu. By large, it depicts how deeply Indian media and civil society is submerged under the doctrines of Hindu nationalists. Most of the other celebrities and crickets didn’t join Imran Khan’s oath taking ceremony because of the humiliation and threat they might receive from Hindu hard-liners. If the lens of prejudice to be removed and viewed it in terms of diplomacy, Sidhu has seized the opportunity for his country. He requested COAS General Bajwa to open border for thousands of Sikhs to reach Pakistan and celebrate Guru Nanak 550th birthday at Nankana sahb. The hard liners grossly misinterpreted this part of his conversation with COAS.
In comparison, Pakistani media shows positive approach when it comes to support peace building measures with India. Pakistani media warmly welcomed Sidhu and termed it a message of peace and good will from India. Moreover, back in 2009, when Aman ki Aasha was launched, private media groups contributed aplenty in making the campaign successful.
At this fragile time, when so many hard liner elements are present in Indian government and media, it will be a tremendous challenge for Imran Khan and his government to bring Indian government to table for peace dialogue since BJP has also shown concerns on Sidhu’s visit. Pakistan’s foreign policy towards India will be deeply dependent on the attitude of both sides rather than political theories. India has to tone down its media and to actually think about stabilizing the relations with Pakistan. There are expectations that foreign ministers from both countries meet at annual meeting of 71st UNGA next month. The view and role of Indian media will be important during this meeting.
Pakistan and India have insubstantial relations for the past 71 years and it has entered into 4th generation war where electronic and social media influence the narrative of a common man. The frosty relations between Pakistan and India can only be melted if both governments take concrete peace building measures. Trade and arts are two important modes of trust building measures. Youth Exchange Programmes to be initiated by both governments to change the perceptions of youth against each other. The US has opted the same methodology to improve trust among Pakistani youth after war on terror. Pakistan can take a bold step by commencing youth exchange programmes. The role of electronic media is significant in this regard. A healthy and constructive debate on TV channels about Indo-Pak relations is need of an hour. The sane minds on both sides of the border always seek will and way to resume the halted peace dialogue between India and Pakistan.
The Indian media and society must look inward as they are refuting their very democratic values like tolerance, inclusivity, and patience. This is the age of information. Those who spread information, must know its consequences.