Mr. Modi: Good for Pakistan, Bad for Muslims?

Early on in Ulysses, Joyce has Stpehen Dedalus harking back to Aristotle and thinking the following thoughts:

Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a bedlam’s hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death? They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass? Weave, weaver of the wind.

We are at that momentous point in South Asia where all of a sudden there is a burgeoning of potentialities only one of which will turn into reality – the actuality of the possible as possible in Aristotle’s formulation.

I have no way of knowing which of those possibilities will become the reality we will look back on ten years from now. What I can do is sift through them and palpate the one that, a priori, seems more than likely to oust the rest.

So let me weave and explicate the thesis that Mr. Modi could be good for Pakistan and bad for Muslims.

First, there are the things that Mr. Modi has come to believe about himself: that he is decisive and that he is a manager par excellence. Whether he is or not, whether he has always believed so, or whether he is the victim of his own sustained rhetoric, is now irrelevant. His reputation and his legacy rest on his acting out that role and delivering on his promise of development and economic growth.

This could be good for Pakistan because he will be decisive in bilateral relations but not so decisive that it comes in the way of the economic development of India.

At one level this is obvious enough, at another slightly more nuanced. Why might Mr. Modi’s decisiveness in bilateral relations be good for Pakistan? Look at it from Pakistan where the state is accountable neither to its people nor to anyone else. No amount of carrots, cajoling, or appeals to common sense can make it alter its ways that rest on fooling all the people all the time. It is only the stick that can possibly impose any kind of constraint on its behavior.

Think of the scenario with regard to polio. The Pakistani state has absorbed billions of dollars in aid and advice and yet remains amongst the only sources of the virus in the world. For years it has fudged the figures and laughed its way to the bank. Only when the world has finally imposed restrictions on travel that inconvenience the rulers has there been any acknowledgement of the seriousness of its irresponsibility.

What holds for polio holds just as well for terrorism. No amount of argumentation is likely to come in the way of what has become an integral strategy to prevent a durable peace that would undercut the control of vested interests. Only the threat of a decisive retaliation could force a rethink of this strategy.

This, of course, would call for a very fine balance. Irrationalities in Pakistan have spawned to such an extent and control over violence become so fractured that nothing can be ruled out by way of likely actions. A decisiveness that discourages but does not push over the edge would be good for Pakistan; a misstep could be a disaster for South Asia.

At the same time, the quickest boost to development of at least the western parts of India would come from a quantum increase in trade with Pakistan. Given Mr. Modi’s imperative to deliver development, and that too in short order, this might be one of the pills he would be willing to swallow. And any increase in trade would be disproportionately beneficial for Pakistan by virtue of its much smaller economy and land mass.

But second, and counterweights to the above, are the things about Mr. Modi that are unlikely to change even if he tries to change them. Mr. Modi has a communal and majoritarian perspective and just as the overt promises of development have to be delivered, so have the winks and nods to his core constituency be made good. He would be held equally to both poles of the bargain he has entered into with his supporters.

The concessions to Pakistan that might be necessitated by the imperative of development could well be compensated by the narrowing of space for Indian Muslims, more so because Indian Muslims wield very little countervailing power. Mr. Modi’s party has no representative from the community and the Lok Sabha as a whole the lowest representation ever. Pakistan, of course, would care little for the fate of Indian Muslims; it never has. They will be entirely at the mercy of Mr. Modi and Mr. Modi is not a sympathetic man.

As I said at the outset, I have no way of knowing if it is this particular possibility that would be actualized though it does seem plausible. I can only hope I am right about the first part and wrong about the second.

One might ask what is to be gained by displaying such displeasing weaves and airing such unpalatable thoughts. It is the hope that looking the implications of a possibility square in the face could well lessen the likelihood of its actualization. In the room of infinite possibilities, another, more benign one could take its place. It is up to us to articulate the possibilities and be part of the movement that stands in the way of one and lends a helping hand to the other.

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23 Responses to “Mr. Modi: Good for Pakistan, Bad for Muslims?”

  1. CTMaloney Says:

    Good thoughts. But the biggest issue for India is not Pakistan, but ENVIRONMENT. North Indian population is increasing 1.5% a year so will double in some 60 years, along with very serious depletion of groundwater in most states, increasing temperature which reduces crop yields, more extreme weather, melting Himalayan glaciers which in future will badly effect agriculture in the Ganga plains, and rising seas along with coastal groundwater salinization. Pak has a faster growing population and even more serious environmental concerns. Not to speak of Bangladesh from which 20-30 million people may try to enter India in a couple decades. I haven’t heard Modi say ANYTHING about these greatest of all issues- like many businessmen he ignores them. So let us see.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      CTMaloney: I agree. The speculation was about what Mr. Modi is likely to focus on rather than what he ought to focus on. Environment is of course the big issue of our times, yet no one seems to be giving it the attention it deserves. This is now a truly common property problem at the global scale and the coordination and cooperation needed seem to be beyond the capacity of those in charge. We might have passed the point of no return already in which case it might be rational to make the most of the remaining time.

  2. skynut Says:

    Starts with a deep thought from Ulysses however ‘ascends rapidly into a shallow analysis…

    It will most likely be the reverse!

    Good for Muslims of India, and bad from Pakistan.

    M is now a national leader whose development agenda needs to res on a stable foundations. His popularity is already at rock bottom among the 13 % or 177,000,000 Muslims. It will be stupid to leave this mass of potential voter alienated and thus unproductive.

    On the other hand, the economic development benefits vs. the potential political fallout cost of operating in favor of Pakistan are too skewed against the economics for him to take the necessary decision in favor of Pakistan. Even if the benefit is indirect.

    On the other hand he will use all overt but mostly covert means to undermine PK, to ensure that it does not have an ability to raise the Kashmir or Water issues…yes..cooperate on a envelopment agenda, but on M’s terms.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Skynut: The frame of the post was that at this time many different futures are possible and one was outlined as probable. The objective was for readers to critique it and posit other more likely futures in order to generate a discussion from which all could benefit.

      You have done that for which I am grateful. However, I don’t understand why it was necessary to begin by saying that the analysis in the post was shallow. In what way is the analysis you have presented any more profound?

      The pedagogical aim of this blog focuses not on profundity (for which you can read the views of very learned people on a host of websites) but on discussion among those who wish to learn. It is described in the objectives of the blog as follows:

      “Note: The South Asian Idea is a resource for learning, not a source of expert opinion. The posts on the blog are intended as starting points for classroom discussions and the position at the end of the discussion could be completely at odds with the starting point. Thus the blog simulates a learning process and does not offer a final product. The reader is invited to join the process to help improve our understanding of important contemporary issues.”

      • skynut Says:

        The reason was to provoke and stimulate, SA to deepen an understanding of the future which SA has proposed. I seemed to have provoked..but not stimulate.

  3. Kabir Altaf Says:

    Before the Indian election, I attended several events here in DC where the speakers were asked about the potential of a Modi victory and the impact on Indian foreign policy, particularly as it relates to Pakistan. There were two scenarios that emerged consistently. The first was that a BJP victory would actually be good for Pakistan because a right wing government cannot be accused of being soft on national security and thus has room to make peace (This was the “Nixon goes to China” scenario). Conversely, there were fears that a Modi victory would harden India’s position versus Pakistan, particularly on the Kashmir conflict. The evidence since Modi’s inauguration leads me to believe that he is leaning towards the “Nixon in China” scenario. He, like Nawaz Sharif, is a businessman and recognizes that there are immense advantages to increased India-Pakistan trade. The fact that he invited Sharif to his swearing-in and that Sharif accepted hopefully augers well for India-Pak relations.

    On the other hand, there was some discussion about abrogating Article 370. While I don’t want to get into the details of India’s internal constitutional arrangements, I think this step would be viewed very negatively by a large section of Kashmiris. Kashmir is NOT just any other Indian state– was incorporated into the Indian Union in a very specific manner and under a special arrangement giving Kashmiris more local autonomy. From the BJP’s perspective, I can understand wanting to normalize the Kashmir issue and giving J&K the same status as any other state is one way to do that. However, I think it does not take into account the sensitivities of the local people. Also, it seems to reflect a hardening of India’s position on the dispute. If India abandons the special status for J&K, it seems to be continuing to push its claim on the territory. This is partly why Pakistan has not made Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir provinces of Pakistan–the argument against doing so is that it would prejudice a resolution to the Kashmir issue.

    On the issue of what a Modi government means for Indian Muslims, I think that the Modi of 2014 is not the same as the Modi of 2002. Being PM means moderating your positions so that they are acceptable to the national mainstream. I don’t see a PM Modi being able to stand silently by while there are massive pogroms against Muslims. That said, I think there is justifiable fear among the Muslim minority of what the future holds for them.

  4. Vinod Says:

    Modi is not a player of the short term game. He is a test player and not a one dayer. My guess is that Modi will actually hide his communal leanings and work in such a manner so that he gains an even bigger majority in Parliament the next time. Only with that kind of support, he may unleash the venom of his communal ideology in the form of laws and amendments to the constitution that prejudice the muslim community. He will then also unleash/un-muzzle his communal friends to wreak havoc on Indian muslims and thus change India for many decades like the way Zia ul Haque damaged Pakistan.

    • Kabir Altaf Says:


      I hope that the future you have outlined doesn’t come to pass. It would be very scary for India.

      It seems to me that it would be difficult for Modi to “unleash the venom of his communal ideology.” As Prime Minister, the exigencies of governing are such that he would be forced to moderate his positions. Even during his election campaign, he distanced himself from the RSS. In addition, given the way that the Gujerat riots have permanently impacted Modi’s reputation, the international community would be alert for any signs of communalism. Presumably, this would keep Modi’s government from taking any steps that are overtly hostile to minorities.

      Finally, I think one important difference between Modi and General Zia ul Haque is that Modi was democratically elected while Zia took power in a military coup. Indian democracy is strong enough that if the citizens are displeased with Modi’s performance over the next five years, they can vote him out of power in 2019. Hopefully Parliament is also strong enough to stop him from implementing the kinds of laws that Zia was able to get passed in Pakistan.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: The comparison of Narendra Modi with Zia ul Haque is a sobering one, if only as a reminder of the lasting damage one person can inflict on the many. That said, I doubt that Modi would have as free a reign as Zia – democracy, moth-eaten as it is, would prevent the worst of the excesses.

      As to your first point, I have two reservations. First, Modi’s margin next time would depend on what he does with the economy and my guess is he won’t be able to do enough to increase his numbers. Second, an ideologically driven person doesn’t really have the patience to wait too long and that too for an uncertain outcome. Whatever Modi is going to do, he will in his first term.

    • Vinod Says:

      Hitler too was democratically elected, wasn’t he? Germany was democratic, when Hitler was elected, correct?

      • Anil Kala Says:

        Vinod you make the assumption that people don’t change. Vajpei was not considered a liberal before he became foreign minister and the liberal tag confirmed only when he became PM. In between he kept repeating I am a RSS swayamsevak( volunteer). Besides Indians love their freedom they will not lie still if it is trampled. In any case Modi did not get votes for his hard stance on Hindutva, he was voted to power due to miserable congress rule even so their vote share is dismal. I think Modi is more ambitious than a loyal RSS votery he will do what he will consider will leave his footprint in history.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: The real question here is deciphering what Mr. Modi thinks “will leave his footprint in history.”

          Let’s consider some examples of what some others thought would leave their footprints in history:

          For Hitler (although I agree with Vikram he is best left out of the discussion), it was the demonstration of Aryan supremacy.
          For Zia, it was the Islamization of Pakistan inclusive of flogging, stoning and amputation.
          For Mao, it was the Great Leap Forward.
          For Pol Pot, it was the recovery of some rural utopia.
          For Bush, it was democratizing the Arabs.

          Whether these people succeeded or failed, they inflicted enormous damage, some of it lasting to this day. That is what concerns me. I really don’t have a clue about Mr. Modi’s dreams.

          • Anil Kala Says:

            SA it is clear to me as day light that Modi wants to be Lee Kuan Yew of India, nothing else. This is what he has been saying for last one year. Often what is obvious is the right inference.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Anil: I really hope you are right. Even then, keep in mind that what Lee Kuan Yew did was in a tiny island where he had few democratic constraints. I doubt the same can be done in the behemoth that is India. What will Mr. Modi do if or when he finds out he cannot Lee Kuan Yew India and gets frustrated?

        • Vinod Says:

          Anil, I am relying on the near impossibility of bringing all, or even a significant majority of Indians, under one ideology as the sole barrier to Modi turning India into a “Pakistan”, if you know what I mean.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vinod: If the ideology is based on religion, it would be statistically impossible because India has a fairly larger religious minority comprised of more than one faith. Unless, of course, it progressively reduces that minority to negligible proportions as has happened in Pakistan. That would comprise the real danger and the German experience you cited would become relevant. Some feel that is impossible in the 21st century.

      • Vikram Says:

        Vinod, it is true to state that Hitler was elected democratically but incorrect to say that Germany was democratic at that time. This comparison is just way off the mark and prevents a serious discussion of the real problems that might come up.

        I think that is where we really need to start. What is the plausible worst case scenario for the Muslims of India ?

        Clearly a Holocaust style extinction, like that in Europe, is not on the cards, it is not even possible.
        A South Africa style apartheid state is also not possible.
        An Idi Amin or Ne Win style expulsion (of Indians, ironically) is also not possible.

        So what is it ? In my opinion, the worst case for Indian Muslims is actually something like the fate of Blacks in the US. If you can get your hands on the book on ‘Muslims in Indian Cities’ by Jaffrelot and Gayer, you will see that this is already happening across India, especially in the North and West. In places like Ahmedabad, this process of Muslim ghettoisation and intense marginalization is in an advanced state, although there is some recent work by Paola Bacchetta which shows that even here the RSS project has eventually failed.

        • Vinod Says:

          Vikram, thanks for your insightful comments. Why do you say Germany was not democratic then?

          • Vikram Says:

            Vinod, as per Bernard Crick’s framework democracy consists of three aspects (which have been discussed on the blog earlier)

            1) Regular, free and fair elections
            2) Independent institutions such as the judiciary, media for checks and balances
            3) Democratic behavior in daily lives of citizens

            Clearly, the first was not present in Weimar Republic. Its election commission was weak and was not able to prevent a Nazi takeover, and ensure free and fair elections at regular intervals. There were other institutional issues as well, see here,

            The Weimar Republic’s Constitution also lacked the popular legitimacy that a Constitution needs to be regarded as the supreme law.

  5. Vikram Says:

    “SA it is clear to me as day light that Modi wants to be Lee Kuan Yew of India, nothing else.”

    Lee Kuan Yew is a scary guy.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: That was my response as well. I don’t feel the Lee Kuan Yew style would be accepted in India. It’s the wrong model for an Indian leader to adopt.

    • Anil Kala Says:

      Vikram whether Lee Kuan Yew is a scary guy or not isn’t the point. The way you quote me gives the impression that I endorse Modi and Yew model of development when in fact I am merely speculating what Modi’s vision is and I believe at the moment it has no focus on Hindutva rather the entire focus is on rapid development of the country, if necessary by trampling on standard norms of democratic behavior. Whether he succeeds or not is also a matter of speculation and only time will tell.

  6. SouthAsian Says:

    Does this op-ed tend to confirm the scenario described in the post:

    “The message he carried was simple: that once elected, the BJP government would pursue talks and push business engagement with Pakistan. He indicated that an invitation would be sent shortly after Mr. Modi took over, to set the ball rolling. There was, however, a rider. If there was a terror attack, said the RSS envoy, one like Mumbai 26/11 that could be traced back to Pakistan, their hands would be tied. A counter-attack on some part of Pakistan-controlled territory would be inevitable.”

    But will Mr. Modi be able to stay with the grand strategy or give in to his instincts?

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