Leader to Statesman
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