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A handy whipping boy - The Times of India

Kuldip Nayar ()
March 4, 1998

Title: A handy whipping boy
Author: Kuldip Nayar
Publication: The Times of India
Date: March 4, 1998

The governments at New Delhi had been following the policy
projected by the BJP. If the latter assumed power, the mask will
be off." This was the burden of the discussion on Indian
elections at a seminar sponsored by the Institute of Regional
Studies in Islamabad recently. Participants included Pakistan
Information Minister Mushahid Hussain, General Abdul Majid Malik,
former High Commissioner to India Abdus Sattar and columnists
>from Karachi and Lahore. The BJP was the whipping boy, although
there was little faith in other political parties when it came to
"changing attitudes" towards Pakistan.

Practically no one spoke against the assessment made by the
Institute's head, Khalid Mahmood, also a former editor, that they
should watch elections with "more than usual interest and
concern" and try to nticipate likely changes in Indian foreign
policy under the next government, examine their implications and
consider our options to safeguard the national interest." Sattar,
who was the most vociferous commentator, quoted Prime Minister
Inder Gujral's observation that the BJP is a "front" for the
cadre-based RSS, "which aims to make India a theocratic State."

As for the attempts to woo Muslims, the participants wondered
whether the BJP's new rhetoric was merely tactical. he BJP
cannot be expected to sever it umbilical links with the RSS,
some said. Sattar refer to he instructive record of the sweet
and soft Gujarat and Chakwal, meaning thereby that Pakistan
had been led up the garden path by friendly noises. Sattar said:
ew of the past 11 elections brought any amelioration in India's
hostility and pressure against Pakistan. And it was improbable
that the next one will. Indeed the reverse appears likely.

Malik saw some advantage in the BJP ruling India. "An extremist
Hindu government at New Delhi would help forge a greater unity
and solidarity among the people of Pakistan," he said. "A
fundamentalist regime in India would not be viewed with favour by
the rest of the world." Several participants proposed common
action with like-minded countries. They said they should alert
the Muslim world, particularly the OIC, to take note of the
probable emergence of a "fundamentalist Hindu regime in India."
Malik said: "In view of India's burgeoning nuclear and satellite
programmes it may not be inappropriate if some of the OIC
countries were persuaded to collaborate with Pakistan to develop
the capacity for launching satellites as a counter to India's
hegemonic and imperial ambitions."

It was believed that the BJP would declare India a nuclear
weapons State. "An effective response within our constrained
circumstances should call for timely preparation," Sattar said.
"Our government historically evinced a predilection for
procrastination and had, more recently, been preoccupied with
internal matters." He warned against New Delhi's still more
hostile policies if and when the BJP came to power. He said:
"Clues to the policy of a BJP government should have to be traced
in its ideology, political antecedents, election manifestoes and
statements of its leaders."

Kashmir figured, naturally. Sattar underlined India's unequivocal
stand of sovereignty over Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied
Kashmir. The BJP was quoted as having pledged to "reclaim the
portions of our territory illegally held by Pakistan." This view
was not shared by all. Still, they felt that India had gained
ground by "stepping up its brutal repression with the blessings
of the West." They criticised the Pakistan government for having
"practically agreed to bilateralise the issue the way India
wanted it." Mushahid and Malik, however, defended the Pakistan
government and said that it had kept the Kashmir question alive
and put India n the defensive by retracting from holding
talks." They also referred to Pakistan's opposition to India's
bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

Still, the majority of participants felt that Pakistan's policies
on Kashmir since 1989 had been "inadequate and at best reactive."
They said there was no alternative to "materially support the
Kashmiris in their life and death struggle and to make up even at
this late stage for the just and incontrovertible cause of the
right to self-determination."

On the elections, the participants made three points. One, all
the three major contestants - the BJP, the Congress and the
United Front - had alliances. Two, Sonia Gandhi had finally
entered the political arena to boost the sagging fortunes of the
Congress. Three, India had stumbled into fresh elections. None
wanted it, least of all the United Front and the Congress. India
could not afford such an expensive business every two years.
Also, the country's progress suffered because of "the
discontinuity and a lame-duck caretaker government."

It was really Khalid Mahmood who sketched the contours of the
possible outcome. He expected gains for the BJP but felt it would
be well short of a majority. Even with the help of its allies, it
would not have 273 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha. Abdus
Sattar also anticipated an increase in the BJP's strength. But
his emphasis was on the "renewed hostility of the BJP against
Pakistan." He recalled, however, that when A. B. Vajpayee was
Foreign Minister in the Janata Party government (1977-79), it was
a golden period of relations between India and Pakistan. ;

Except for Kashmir, the participants in the seminar have re-
echoed more or less the thoughts expressed in India. Where they
go wrong is in their assessment of the determination of non-BJP
forces to keep out communal elements. The fact that all of them
joined hands to keep out the BJP after the last election shows
that some sort of polarisation has developed. The recent instance
is that of developments in UP where even sworn enemies like
Mulayam Singh and Mayawati buried the hatchet to try to defeat
Kalyan Singh.

True, the current election has somewhat blurred the picture. But
it is the BJP which has compromised more than the parties with
which it has jointly fought at the polls. The BJP has deferred
its agenda to build the temple. Even Article 370 will not be
amended till the BJP's allies agree to it. The BJP has been
forced to dilute its stand because it has realised that it cannot
win on its own plank, save in the Hindi heartland. India is
already in the midst of a battle between communal and secular
forces. But a theocratic state like Pakistan cannot see the

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