The recent statement from BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi that stopped short of opposing talks with Pakistan has provided a bit of leeway for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, though a senior leader of the principal opposition party told Hindustan Times that “over-enthusiasm” is misplaced.
Singh is scheduled to leave on Wednesday for the US, where he is expected to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
A series of mishaps in the recent past, starting with the beheading of an Indian soldier on the border in January and the recent killing of five Indian soldiers has vitiated the atmosphere, but Singh is hopeful that Sharif will give some good news in New York, an official said.
The BJP has been vehemently opposing engagement with Pakistan since the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, but Modi’s less than belligerent stand towards Pakistan was widely interpreted as a recalibration of his position in the hope of attaining power.
The senior leader of the BJP said while it indeed was a nuanced shift in the party’s position, it would prefer “incremental and step-by-step approach,” towards Pakistan.
“Atalji’s diplomacy not only forced the world to discuss the issue of global terrorism, it also ensured that the world stopped listening sympathetically to Pakistan,” Modi had said, while still being critical of the neighbour, endorsing the former PM.
Vajpayee had pursued peace with Pakistan despite stiff opposition from within the BJP. Modi’s statement has contributed to some softening of opposition from within the Congress too. The Congress has been wary that a misstep vis-à-vis Pakistan can turn out to be too costly for the party as elections near.
In a discussion on foreign policy at the Jaipur conclave of the Congress in January this year the younger delegates turned so aggressive — even demanding a war against Pakistan — that Rahul Gandhi had to intervene and say that it is not the party’s policy.
From that defensive position, the Congress has now found hope in Modi’s mellowing down. “No talks is no option. Even Modi is not opposed to talks,” a senior Congress functionary, who is generally not an enthusiastic supporter of PM Singh, told HT.
Foreign policy has become increasingly contentious in India. Soon after taking over as PM for a second term in 2009, Singh’s Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement with Pakistani was widely criticised as being a sellout and even the Congress had not defended him. Any little leeway is good news for him.