From Pulwama through Balakot to 370 and beyond – Understanding Modi’s approach

 It was a few months to the 2019 general elections in India and the dastardly Pulwama attacks happened. A contingent of Indian army soldiers was blown in their convoy in the city of Pulwama, near Srinagar in J&K. The glee in the terror camps in J&K and their fund masters in Pak was unfathomable. 

India’s PM Narendra Modi couldn’t have been left more seething OR faced a more challenging test to his trademark leadership, one known for quick and decisive actions. Would he succumb to the pressures of facing an election and thus keep quiet (after some perfunctory condemnations) OR would he respond in his signature fashion thereby risking his outcome in the elections?

It was a typical Vikram aur Betal situation. Immediate action would be risky while a delay (after a few months) was even more so! After all, the outcome of elections is always an unknown. What he went on to do and the way he responded makes an interesting read and makes you wonder what he has further in store!

Part-I – Balakot Strikes!

His immediate reaction was that of Balakot. The way in which he orchestrated the reply and manage the international attention very favourably is all out there to see and read. 

Knocking off a Pak F-16 with his ageing jets, his armed forces carried out some of the most daring attacks and cross border surgical strikes without ever going overboard. Then he kept the pressure to make Pak Govt return India’s captured Pilot too. Pak PM Imran Khan may have gained some brownie points in the process from his cheering buddies in international and national press BUT all said and done it was game, set and match for India’s PM Modi. The message was clear – I won’t disappoint you in my response NOR will I be left seething helplessly before the elections – but – wait there is more coming! He went on to win the elections a few months thence and it was just the beginning!

Part-II – Hitting where it hurt

Balakot was just a start. He wanted to get back in a way that would leave the Pak equally seething without being able to budge an inch. His second response, much after a few months after his successful re-election. The answer was – Article 370! 

 After what must have been months of preparation, in one swift move, he rendered Article 370 of the Indian constitution useless using one of the clauses and caveats within the article itself. The article of the constitution which had become a bone of contention for decades between India and Pak, and festered into an inoperable wound, was handled swiftly and decisively in an instant. That Article 370 had, for decades, given Pak all the wedge and lever in holding India on its tenterhooks, while letting the two major ruling families in the state of J&K enjoy their lives in opulence amidst the hell they created for its residents. More importantly, It also made Kashmir a flashpoint in international relations, not only w.r.t. Pakistan but also with China, which for its own interests kept the burner on between Pakistan and India.

But how would he do it with US and rest of the world watching? He had to just wait, not for long though! Trump, in the meanwhile had started to precipitate his relations with China, in his inimitable fashion, into a serious trade war. International news was just occupied with that. Sanctions on Chinese goods by US, and in turn retaliation by China was the news of the day. Pakistan meanwhile continued its downward spiral in its economy with it currency in an eternal state of freefall.

The time was ripe to deliver the blow to Pakistan. When Pak PM Imran Khan made his overnight unannounced visit to USA for his next bowl of alms, the message to him was clear (from USA) – rein in your terror funding or else… . In an ignominious, yet, public admission, Pak PM Imran Khan admitted the presence of countless terror camps and possibly garnered more funds. While on the topic, talks of requesting to mediate must have certainly arisen resulting in Trump making his mediation remarks (something that India promptly denied). 

The homework in the meanwhile was done and a motion was passed by the Home Minister Mr. Amit Shah to repeal the special status given to the state of J&K and make it a Union territory. In the same breath, the Ladakh part of the J&K state, which had been ignored for long, was given a separate status of a Union territory. 

Seething Pak rushes for support in vain

Nothing could have left Pakistan more seething than having to witness this juncture. The situation was akin to the seething rage that India was left in after the Pulwama attacks. An issue that was dear to its existence since decades, and fueled by the ineptness of earlier Indian foreign policies, was made null and void without it being able to move a finger.

The only responses from International community was that of restraint and mutual dialog, something that India always wanted. US was (and is) too pre-occupied with its own issues, and so too was (and is) China. Though an ally, China has a bigger picture to look forward to. The so called Organization of Islamic CooperationOIC , Pakistan’s only hope in times like these, was not of much help either – Again, only mild statements asking restraint and mutual dialog. 

Probably the most hard hitting one for Pakistan was from Saudi Arabia and other the nearby regions in Middle East from Gulf countries. Saudi, for its own reasons, decided to de-recognize the medical degrees of doctors from Pakistan, thus rendering all the Pak medicos in Saudi ready for deportation. The cut couldn’t have been deeper. So also were responses from the Middle East and even some prominent Muslim clerics like Imam Tawhidi. The hopes of ‘internationalizing’ the bilateral border issue was simply rendered useless. 

Back home, the response to such an action by Modi was received with great adulation across the length and breadth of public view. Even parts of media staunchly opposed to the current administration and its ideologies could not help but admire the step taken. Even the Indian National Congress, arguably the most staunch and viscerally opposed party to the BJP, became deeply divided within its ranks. Major members of its party came out in support of the bill to repeal Article 370. The ruling family, in the party, couldn’t have been more embarrassed. In a surprising move, Mr. Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party and the Chief Minister of Delhi, another staunch opponent of the BJP’s politics and ideologies, also came out in support of the move.

Clearly Modi had done his homework well and painstakingly implemented it. Game Set and Match to Modi!

Moving forward …

Well… The game certainly ain’t over yet and lot of it is yet to come. The point is PM Modi gave it back in the same note, if not with a stronger effect. PM Imran Khan and his nation’s leadership cannot be in a more unenviable situation. The only response from his side has been removing bilateral relations, something that has no obvious purpose and probably even more deleterious to his nation’s interests.

Oddly, wars (direct or proxy) do not have any winners, only victims! For all the strident-bearing epithets that India’s PM Modi has been bestowed with, mostly by parts of media that do not (choose to) take him kindly, his approach has always been that of economic development without letting the guard down on national interests and security. To that extent he has admirably kept the balance well. Quoting the words of poet Robert Frost – and miles and miles to go before any sense of equilibrium is reached. The road to that is far from over and will be there time to come. While on its path, obstacles such as these only further add to problems. This is what had stalled India’s progress for decades. However, as had been the wont in the yesteryears of Indian foreign policy, Modi’s team has never shied from taking bold, decisive and proactive steps either when it came to handling the challenges posed in the process. One can only hope that his leadership goes on to make a more positive impact in the Indian as well as the global scene.

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