The PM’s sudden stopover in Lahore to meet his Pak counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the latter’s birthday was instantly hailed as “Modi’s masterstroke” by both media pundits and many parties across the political spectrum. The Indian Prime Minister’s landing on Pakistan soil, after a gap of 11 years, found appreciation from many quarters and silenced, at least temporarily, some Modi critics.
While the Congress attacked the PM for his “attempt to grab the headline”, rivals like the CPIM, CPI, National Conference and even Kashmiri separatists welcomed the move. This was quite a welcome change for the ruling dispensation, which has been under a barrage of attack from opposition parties over different issues in recent times.
The near-washout of the winter session of Parliament in which the BJP was unable to push key economic reforms, the party’s internal rumblings over the DDCA controversy and the Opposition’s attack on minister VK Singh over his alleged remarks against Dalit boys had hogged the limelight for long. The entire controversy over intolerance and beef where the BJP stood almost alone to defend itself had also rattled the government. Modi’s pit stop in Pakistan would also help him as well as the government to build a stronger defence against the Opposition’s criticism about his frequent foreign travels.
Modi’s outreach to the neighbouring country also comes as a fitting response to opposition parties’ projection of him as a hardliner when it came to Pakistan. It had also raised new hopes and aspirations about improvement in IndoPak ties—another area where the Opposition had been questioning the PM’s diplomatic skills.
Modi and Sharif talked for about 90 minutes and shared an early-evening meal before the Indian leader flew back home, raising hopes that stop-and-start negotiations between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
After months of a freeze, India and Pakistan resumed high-level contacts with a brief conversation between Sharif and Modi at climate change talks in Paris late last month, part of efforts to restart a peace dialogue plagued by militant attacks and long-standing distrust.
A close aide to Modi said the visit was a spontaneous decision by the PM and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, and that it should not be seen as a sudden shift in India’s position.