Leader to States­man

Southasia - - COMMENT -

When Naren­dra Modi was shak­ing hands with Nawaz Sharif, just be­fore tak­ing oath as In­dia’s 15th Prime Min­is­ter, he must have thought of the great his­toric op­por­tu­nity he had to bring South Asia out of the box. He was host that day to all those heads of state and govern­ment of South Asian na­tions who were present to par­tic­i­pate in his oath-tak­ing. It seems though that Modi used the op­por­tu­nity sim­ply to fur­ther his own agenda. The very next day, when he met the Pak­istani prime min­is­ter again, his em­pha­sis was more on the ter­ror­ism that is al­leged to orig­i­nate in Pak­istan and less on the var­i­ous other ir­ri­tants that have im­pacted re­la­tions be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan – is­sues such as Kash­mir, Si­achin, Sir Creek, dis­tri­bu­tion of river wa­ters, the visa regime, In­dia-Pak­istan trade, etc. Per­haps it would have been more in the fit­ness of things had Modi left ter­ror­ism and the other is­sues for talks at a later date and sim­ply con­cen­trated on know­ing his guest bet­ter. But that is the dif­fer­ence be­tween a leader and a states­man.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a his­toric man­date in the coun­try’s gen­eral elec­tion when it emerged with 282 out of 543 par­lia­men­tary seats. These were more than enough for the BJP to form a govern­ment with­out hav­ing to en­ter a coali­tion with other par­ties. Aged 63, Naren­dra Modi is the son of a tea-seller. He was a full-time ac­tivist of the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing party and rose to the po­si­tion of Chief Min­is­ter of Gu­jarat state twice. It was dur­ing his years as the Gu­jarat chief min­is­ter that Modi was ac­cused of or­ches­trat­ing com­mu­nal ri­ots in his state in which more than 1000 people are al­leged to have been killed. Dur­ing his chief min­is­ter­ship, Modi brought pros­per­ity to Gu­jarat and shaped his fu­ture vi­sion for In­dia. His planned eco­nomic re­forms will now come into play be­cause he and his team strongly be­lieve that In­dia needs rad­i­cal change. It is in this vein that Modi has floated the idea of build­ing “a hun­dred new cities,” of ex­tend­ing a high-speed rail net­work across the sub­con­ti­nent and un­der­tak­ing the her­culean task of clean­ing the Ganges River. Though he is re­port­edly in­spired by China’s model of high-growth and top-down de­vel­op­ment, it is also true the coun­try he now leads is much more messy – and demo­cratic – than China.

The hope is that the spirit of amity and friend­ship with which South Asian lead­ers were in­vited to the In­dian pre­mier’s oath-tak­ing cer­e­mony will be car­ried for­ward in the coun­try’s fu­ture deal­ings with the other re­gional states. As the most pop­u­lous and largest ge­o­graph­i­cal en­tity in the en­tire equa­tion, In­dia should now stop act­ing as a bully. It needs to be­come a be­nign leader, a re­gional power that rec­og­nizes the in­de­pen­dent rights of other South Asian states and is will­ing to pro­vide the sort of lead­er­ship that is ex­pected of such a large coun­try. In this con­text, it is also ex­pected that SAARC, an or­ga­ni­za­tion which has more or less been in limbo for many years now, will be kick started into a dy­namic body, tak­ing due cog­nizance of its laid down ob­jec­tives and serv­ing the re­gion in a more vi­brant man­ner.

In fact, in or­der to give greater vi­a­bil­ity to SAARC, it is im­por­tant that In­dia am­i­ca­bly set­tles its dis­putes with other South Asian na­tions, es­pe­cially Pak­istan, and gives a chance to the people of the re­gion to progress and grow in the same man­ner as people in other re­gions. With his new style of gov­er­nance and with his pro­cliv­ity for change, Naren­dra Modi is one In­dian leader who can cre­ate this op­por­tu­nity. All that he needs to do is free him­self from the tra­di­tional in­hi­bi­tions that have dogged the path of his pre­de­ces­sors and look at the fu­ture of South Asia with a new per­spec­tive. Now that he is in the driv­ing seat, Modi faces the chal­lenge of liv­ing up to the as­pi­ra­tions of his coun­try­men in par­tic­u­lar and of South Asians in gen­eral – a chal­lenge that he must deliver on by trans­form­ing from a leader to a states­man.

Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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