External Invitation, Internal Signalling
Modi’s invitation to neighbours is wholesome Narendra Modi’s invitation to South Asian countries to send their heads of government or their representatives to be present at his swearing-in is much more than a gesture of good neighbourliness. Of course, to love thy neighbour is a virtue in itself and is entirely welcome. But given the nature of the neighbours and given the context in which the invitation is being extended, this show of friendship goes a little further. The most significant invitation is, of course, to Pakistan. That to Bangladesh comes next in import and importance. It is only BJP ally from Tamil Nadu Vaiko who makes the invitation to Sri Lanka anything more than routine, because of his protest against ‘war criminal’ Rajapaksa being honoured.
Pakistan has served, in Narendra Modi’s aggressive campaign rhetoric in the past, as shorthand for distrust of and hostility towards the Muslim minority of India. By attacking the UPA government for being soft on Pakistan, Modi imputed that the Congress was appeasing minorities. Pakistan, in this school of thought, is not just the barbarian forever sniping at the gate but also the enemy within. After having won the election, Modi is now signalling a change of tack. By inviting the leader of Pakistan to his swearing-in, Modi signals cessation of hostilities within and willingness to cooperate with Islamabad. Both are unequivocally welcome. Bashing Bangladeshi migrants during the election campaign, Modi had raised hackles in Dhaka. Now, by reaching out to Dhaka, he signals peace. This, too, is welcome.
This single act of political astuteness will not banish the apprehensions that India’s minorities have about the country’s new prime minister. But it certainly works to take the edge off their wariness. Kashmir is one place where Modi’s gesture has gone down particularly well. War, said Clausewitz, is continuation of politics by other means. It would appear the obverse is true, too: peace and friendship, too, are other means to continue politics. On the face of it, this politics is of the constructive kind as well. Besides being clever.