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27 May, 2014

Modi reinvents himself

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised foes and friends alike by turning his swearing-in ceremony into an occasion to celebrate democracy and promote goodwill among South Asian nations.

For the first time, India invited the heads of governments of its partners in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to the swearing-in of a prime minister and all of them responded positively. As it happens, all Saarc countries now have elected leaders although some of them have seen violent changes of government in the past.

The Indian media has given Modi the entire credit for creating history, but Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif is also entitled to a share. He had invited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to attend his swearing-in last year. Singh did not go. While congratulating Modi on his election victory, Sharif extended an invitation to him to visit Pakistan. Modi decided to invite Sharif and the other Saarc leaders to his inaugural.

Media reports have suggested that the Pakistan Army did not favour Sharif’s India visit. His brother and Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, met Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and impressed upon him that the visit would be beneficial.

Several civil society groups urged Nawaz Sharif to accept the invitation but Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, vehemently opposed it and held a big protest rally in Islamabad. India has identified Saeed as the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. The UN has declared JuD a terrorist front and the US has put a price of $10 million on Saeed’s head.

On Friday, the Indian consulate at Herat in Afghanistan had come under terrorist attack. It did not prevent President Hamid Karzai from joining the Saarc get-together in New Delhi. According to Pakistani reports, the Herat attack strengthened Sharif’s resolve to visit India.

During the election campaign, Modi had repeatedly castigated the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government for being soft towards Pakistan. Supporters who expected him to take a hawkish line on Pakistan could not easily reconcile themselves to the swift transition from street-fighter to statesman.

Uddhav Thackeray, leader of the Shiv Sena, which is the BJP’s largest partner in the National Democratic Alliance, could not fully reconcile himself with Modi’s new avatar. He said he expected Modi to press the nuclear button if Pakistan did not change.

The Shiv Sena has resorted to violent agitations in the past in protest against Pakistani cricket team’s visits to India.

Dharmawati, wife of Hemraj, an Indian soldier who was beheaded by Pakistani soldiers near the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir last January, said at Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, that she would be on fast while Sharif remained in India.

A financial newspaper suggested that the motive behind Modi’s gesture to Pakistan was not desire for peace but desire to do a good turn to the Adani Group, which financed his election campaign. It said the Adanis want to export to Pakistan the bulk of the power from the 10,000 megawatt thermal station they are setting up in the Kutch district of Gujarat.

The invitation to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa angered the government and people of Tamil Nadu, where there is considerable sympathy for the island’s Tamil minority. Leaders of the BJP’s allies in the state went to New Delhi and pleaded for withdrawal of the invitation. Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa stayed away from the swearing-in ceremony and political parties of the state staged protests to coincide with it.

Rajapaksa, in an attempt to mollify the Indian Tamils, asked CV Vigneswaran, chief minister of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-speaking Northern Province, to join him on the India trip. Not wanting to annoy his Indian supporters, Vigneswaran refused. However, Jaffna’s Tamil Mayor, Yogeshwari Pathkunarajah, joined Rajapaksa’s delegation.

Modi took the opposition to Nawaz Sharif and Mahinda Rajapaksa in his stride. His gesture brought immediate gains from Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the form of release of fishermen jailed in these countries for alleged intrusion into their territorial waters.

Some social network users are not impressed with Modi 2.0. They see the Goa police’s case against a young man for an anti-Modi Facebook post and the Karnataka police’s case against five Muslim students for circulating an anti-Modi SMS as early indications of what life in the Modi era will be like. Modi has no direct connection with the cases, both of which are based on private complaints, the first by a pro-BJP businessman and the second by an activist of unclear political affiliation.. .

It is, of course, too early to draw conclusions about Narendra Modi’s prime ministership. He hasn’t been in office for 24 hours yet. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 27, 2014.

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