The India-Pakistan relationship often falls woefully short of trust and understanding, but it is never found wanting when it comes to drama. On Monday, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed his greetings to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on Pakistan Day, his emissary to a reception hosted by Pakistan high commissioner to India Abdul Basit, the minister of state for external affairs, VK Singh, made a complete hash of things.
Mr Singh, who barely managed to stay at the reception for 10 minutes, later tweeted several incomprehensible statements in which he explained the words ‘duty’ and ‘disgust’. While there was no direct reference to the Pakistan Day celebrations, it seemed to suggest that he was unhappy about representing the government at the function. While at a personal level Mr Singh is entitled to have his views, it is surprising that he did so publicly. This conduct is unacceptable and is not expected of a political figure and especially when he was sent there by the PM himself. Mr Singh must also realise that a social media platform is not his personal space when he is in government and his comments can be construed by many as those of the government he represents.
New Delhi’s ties with Islamabad have varied from government to government but there has been some kind of continuity in them. The Modi government’s approach, however, has been one of oscillation between two extremes in the 10 months that it has been in power. If Mr Modi surprised everyone by inviting Mr Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony in May last year, a few months later he called off the foreign secretary level talks after Mr Basit met Kashmiri separatist leaders on the eve of the bilateral talks; and now this unexpected behaviour by someone who handles the foreign affairs portfolio. The foreign policy of the State cannot be decided in such an impromptu manner. The country will be served better with more consistent messaging and clearer indication of which way the bilateral relations are going. Else, the policy risks being perceived as temperamental, hurting the government’s credibility.