At UNGA, Narendra Modi takes high road: PM makes case for de-hyphenating India-Pakistan, draws stark contrast with Imran Khan

  • India went in to the UNGA session knowing well that Pakistan would hijack the forum for more anti-India rhetoric and threats of nuclear war

  • India does not want to be hyphenated with Pakistan. It detests the hyphenation because the West's propensity to equate Pakistan and India

  • Modi took the high moral ground and worked on the principle of ignoring Pakistan's attempts to draw New Delhi into a slanging match

In Pondicherry, where the 2019 Pondi Litfest is taking place, the developments at United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) escaped no one’s attention. A senior columnist, during one of the sessions, commented that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s failure to hold Pakistan accountable, mention the perfidious nature of the propaganda being carried out against India on Kashmir, or even take Pakistan’s name at the UNGA forum must qualify as a failure of Indian diplomacy.

Nothing could be further than truth. India went in to the UNGA session knowing well that Pakistan would hijack the forum for more anti-India rhetoric and threats of nuclear war in South Asia. India had also anticipated (correctly, as it turned out) that Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan would paint India as the ‘villain of all villains, a blot on humanity led by a genocidial maniac at the helm.’ India had a very simple strategy: when they stoop low, we soar high.

 At UNGA, Narendra Modi takes high road: PM makes case for de-hyphenating India-Pakistan, draws stark contrast with Imran Khan

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reuters

Let us understand the basic underpinnings of this strategy as we analyse the speeches delivered first by Modi and then Imran. India does not want to be hyphenated with Pakistan. It detests the hyphenation because the West’s propensity to ‘equate’ Pakistan and India (a tactic that the US and certain western nations have been guilty of) does nothing for India’s stature in the comity of nations and undermines its position as the world’s fastest-growing trillion-dollar economy, and the sixth-largest with a nominal GDP of $2.61 trillion.

According to IMF projections, India will overtake the UK to become the fifth-largest by the end of this year.

Pakistan, in contrast, is a failed, bankrupt, beggared, rogue nation that lives off global dole.

Second, India is a true democracy, not a quasi-democracy like Pakistan that has been ruled directly or indirectly by its military almost the entire tenure of its existence as a nation-state.

Third, the name ‘India’ refers not just to the nation state, but one of the world’s oldest civilisations. Its citizens are still linked to that civilisational past through customs, tradition, language and other metrics unlike Pakistan, that was born out of a bifurcation of India and ever since has been trying desperately to erase its past, culture, language and tradition and adopt an alien Arabic identity.

Fourth, India is home to world’s largest ‘Muslim minority’ population, despite the fact that Pakistan was carved out of it on the basis of two-nation theory. In contrast, Pakistan’s minority population (not just Hindus) has come down from “23 percent in 1947 to three percent today and has subjected Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadiyas, Hindus, Shias, Pashtuns, Sindhis and Balochis to draconian blasphemy laws, systemic persecution, blatant abuse and forced conversions”, as India pointed out in its right to reply.

Fifth, Pakistan is the world’s greatest incubator, nurturer, trainer, sponsor and exporter of terrorism and the only nation that uses radical Islamist jihadism as an instrument of State policy. And as its immediate neighbour whose land it covets, India has been at the receiving end of Pakistan’s nefarious designs. This isn’t surprising since Pakistan’s very existence depends on eternal jihad against India.

It is easy to see why India detests this hyphenation that results in a false equivalence with a failed, terror-sponsoring State. The options before Modi, therefore, were two: Join Pakistan in a slanging match at the UN and reinforce the hyphenation before a global audience, or aim high and set higher standards to reinforce the difference between the two nations. It is not surprising that Modi chose the latter.

Modi’s piece was well-structured and while he seemingly did not take Pakistan’s name or referred to the rogue nation’s acts of desperation since abrogation of Article 370, every line in his speech highlighted the reasons why Pakistan’s propaganda against India is a bag of desperate lies.

He started by invoking the 150th birthday celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi. This was deliberate. Gandhi evokes global image of an apostle of peace who led India’s freedom struggle against colonialism through the path of non-violence.

By claiming anew his legacy, Modi was at the very outset making a subtle point that a nation that puts Gandhi front and centre of its foreign policy and lived existence shall never deviate from the path of peace. Consider his statement during the UNGA speech: “His (Gandhi’s) message of truth and non-violence is very relevant for us even today, for peace, development and progress in the world.”

This also ties up nicely with Modi’s message on development. So the initial stress on “peace” and “development” is meant to reassure the UNGA that these are the keywords that drive India’s policymaking, and what has been left unsaid is that this also forms the basis behind India’s move to revoke a temporary constitutional provision that kept Kashmir alienated from India and contributed towards fomenting of separatism and terrorism.

In his very second statement, Modi refers to the “world’s biggest election” that propelled him to power second time in office with an even bigger mandate than the first. The implication is that the Kashmir move is backed by massive popular sentiment across India (and as Houston showed, even beyond).

Modi’s move to highlight the massive strides India has undertaken to improve the human development index once again puts into perspective the morass Pakistan finds itself in through its decades of self-inflicted damage. The Indian prime minister also reiterated the notion of ‘Buddh’, not ‘yuddh’ (Buddha, not war) as India’s gift to the world: this was simultaneously taking the high moral ground as opposed to Pakistan’s naked war-mongering and a mention of India’s soft power.

Finally, Modi’s stress on the need for world to unite against terrorism and nations that use it as an instrument of foreign policy was aimed at putting pressure on the UN not to split hairs between good and bad terrorism. The well-structured speech projected Modi as a global statesman, the leader of an emerging superpower that is out to secure its rightful place in the global pecking order.

As for India’s response to Pakistan’s invective, that was more than adequately accomplished by a mid-level diplomat who termed Imran’s comments at the UN forum a “hate speech” directed towards India from a nation that defended, among other things, Osama bin Laden. India’s move to refer to Imran as Imran Khan Niazi was a nice little jab aimed at reminding Pakistan of the humiliating defeat during 1971 war when Lt. Gen AAK Niazi surrendered to India.

So, while Modi took the high moral ground and worked on the principle of ignoring Pakistan’s attempts to draw New Delhi into a slanging match at the UN, Indian diplomats made sure that the slur doesn’t go unanswered. This was a well thought out and effective strategy.

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Updated Date: Sep 30, 2019 08:15:41 IST