Trust Prime Minister Narendra Modi to spring a surprise when you expect it the least. Just when it appeared the NDA government was exploring non-military response to the September 18 terror strike on the Uri army base, the armed forces launched “surgical strikes” on terror “launchpads”, or camps used to facilitate infiltration of terrorists, across the border in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) on Wednesday night. It’s a first since Pakistan started exporting terror to India in the 1990s.
The implications and ramifications of this gambit are not clear yet. But the move underscores -- yet again -- Modi’s risk-taking ability that has been the defining feature of his diplomatic initiatives as well. “Modi may not follow a script. But he works to a logic. Look at the Pakistan policy. First he tried to be friendly with the neighbour. When he failed, he knew that he had to live up to his image of a strong leader who cannot let terrorists keep on targeting India. So he follows a logic and his political instinct”, said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.
Few expected Modi to invite Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif, along with other Saarc heads, to his swearing-in ceremony in May 2014. “Bomb dhamakon mein baat-cheet ki awaaz band ho jaati hai,” Modi had told his Pakistani counterpart the next day of the ceremony. Sharif agreed and proposed the resumption of bilateral talks.
That started what the foreign policy establishment described as “great chemistry” between the two leaders that survived many ups and downs in bilateral relations --- until the Pakistani Premier called slain militant commander Burhan Wani a martyr and dedicated Pakistan’s Independence Day on August 14 to the freedom movement in Kashmir.
But the preceding two years were marked by decisions that were described variously --- and paradoxically --- as “knee-jerk”, “bold”, “out-of-box”, et al. New Delhi’s decision to call off foreign secretary-level talks in 2014, after Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit met Hurriyat leaders, was unexpected. Again, few anticipated the NSA-level meeting in Bangkok in December 2015, which came barely a week after Modi-Sharif meeting in Paris on December 1. The country was in for another surprise last Christmas when Modi decided to make a stopover at Sharif ‘s farmhouse in Lahore on his way back from Russia via Afghanistan.
It’s not that Modi has reserved his surprises for Pakistan only. Nobody expected the PM to give a public reception to visiting Chinese president Xi Jinping in Gujarat, the first since 1962 war. NITI Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya, Modi’s Sherpa at G 20 meet in China, said early this month that India would not be able to ratify the Paris Climate agreement by the end of this year. Modi took everyone by surprise again, declaring at a BJP meeting in Kozhikode that it would be ratified on October 2.
The list of such surprises is long. Many opposition leaders might claim to predict Modi, the politician, but could someone say the same about Modi, the Prime Minister?