Narendra Modi must heed Nehru's words: PM must stop talking about Partition, and get on with more urgent tasks

On 21 February, 1999, the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Minar-e-Pakistan during his famous bus journey to Lahore. He wrote in the visitors’ book there that India and Indians accepted Pakistan’s creation. A stable, secure and prosperous Pakistan, he added, was in India’s interest and said that no one in Pakistan must have a doubt about it.

Vajpayee couldn’t have found a better place for extending this friendly assurance to Pakistan. The 62-metre-tall minar stands at the place where, in 1940, the Muslim League had for the first time called for an independent Pakistan.

Sixteen years after this—on 25 December, 2015 to be precise—Narendra Modi made a surprise stopover in Lahore on his way back to India from Kabul. He wished Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif a happy birthday and attended the wedding of his granddaughter. Though Modi made no formal comments in visitors’ books, it was amply clear that, like Vajpayee, he honestly and sincerely wanted not only an independent Pakistan but also close relations with it.

It is another matter that Pakistan responded to Vajapyee’s visit with an act of aggression in Kargil and to Modi’s stopover with an assault on the Pathankot air base. But both Vajpayee and Modi won diplomatic acclaim from around the world by doing the very best they could to remove any fears in Pakistan that the BJP was out to undo partition. That has always been something that Pakistan claims India in general and the BJP in particular is bent upon doing.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament. Twitter/@BJP4India

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament. Twitter/@BJP4India

But by blaming the Congress in Parliament on Wednesday for “partitioning” India, Modi ran the risk of making a needless point, even if unwittingly, to Pakistan and the rest of the world. He said: “When you (Congress) partitioned India, you sowed such poison that not a day has passed in 70 years when 125 crore Indians don’t pay for it.”

The obvious implication of Modi’s outburst was that partition was something that should never have happened. Modi and his supporters could argue that disagreeing with the partition does not necessarily amount to an intention to undo it. But those harping on India’s division in remorseful tones also leave themselves vulnerable to the charge of pursuing a vengeful policy to strangle Pakistan financially, militarily and diplomatically. This was, of course, quite the opposite of what Vajpayee and Modi, as the BJP’s prime ministers, had sought to convey on their respective visits to Lahore.

Keeping hardliners in check

Scoring political points against the Congress is one thing, but setting back a diplomatic effort that the world had acclaimed is quite another. Modi must be aware that what keeps the adrenaline flowing for Pakistan’s hardliners is the fear—which is a figment of their collective imagination—that India, especially the BJP, wants to reverse partition and grab all its territory.

Let Modi attack Pakistan’s leaders for turning their country into a rogue nation that breeds and exports terror, for turning it into a tin-pot democracy that is actually run by trigger-happy generals, for being pathologically obsessed with India, for the economic mess that they brought on their country in the process, for transforming their sovereign nation into a de facto vassal state of China, for hallucinating about a parity with India that exists only in their minds, and for stoking a visceral hatred for Hindus only to keep their country from breaking up.

Let Modi mince no words in blaming Pakistan for all that and more, or even carry out more surgical attacks across the border when and if necessary. However, he must desist from questioning the very founding of Pakistan. Reconciling to Pakistan’s existence would mean keeping alive the tiny chance that peace stands. Questioning Pakistan’s very creation would only deprive India of its diplomatic and moral edge and would add to the excuses of those who run that country to step up their anti-India madness.

Besides, that would strengthen the hands of Pakistan’s hard-nosed fanatics and weaken the few saner elements there who want peace and who dream of a life befitting 21st century civilisation.

The other part of Modi’s Parliament speech on how the Congress ruined democracy in India is bound to have many takers. Modi did well in censuring the Congress for using Article 356 of the Constitution “more than 90 times” to dismiss state governments, for being a party that runs on the whim and fancy of a dynasty, for insulting its own chief ministers and for breaking up states to suit its political interests.

Modi didn’t say it, but he can—and he must—also attack the Congress for turning itself into a party of unashamed sycophants, for communalising India with its vote-bank politics and appeasement of minorities, for institutionalising corruption and for sending the country into the darkness of Emergency for two dreadful years.

Let Modi do all this but he must stop accusing the Congress of being solely responsible for the country’s partition—and must stop regretting it.

Nehru wasn’t always wrong

Regretting something that can’t be reversed can only serve as a distraction for a prime minister from the more urgent tasks on hand. Let’s recall what Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, said about going back on partition.

Some might argue that Nehru was equipped with an intellectual faculty suited only to producing literature and university lectures rather than running a vast country with a hostile neighbour breathing down its western flank. But Nehru’s March 1948 lecture at Aligarh Muslim University on partition should stop all argument over undoing partition. It’s truer today than it was 70 years ago.

He said: “There is no going back in history ... If today, by any chance, I were offered the reunion of India and Pakistan, I would decline it for obvious reasons. I do not want to carry the burden of Pakistan’s great problems. I have enough of my own.”

Who said Nehru was always wrong?

The author tweets @sprasadindia

Updated Date: Feb 09, 2018 18:27 PM

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