Pink Sharif and Pink Modi

Pink is the colour of the cheeks of the young blushing Pakistani bride whose wedding in Raiwind an Indian prime minister stopped-over to attend.

Pink is the colour of the turban her grandfather Nawaz Sharif wore at her valima, a turban which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave to his Pakistani counterpart for the occasion.

Pink was the glow of satisfaction on the face of Indian High Commissioner T.C. Raghavan who reached Lahore in the nick of time to receive his prime minister.

Pink is the colour of the turban Modi gave Nawaz Sharif.

Pink the colour of the embarrassment felt by Nawaz Sharif’s two advisers on foreign affairs — Sartaj Aziz and Tariq Fatemi — who could not. Both (but interestingly not their subordinate, the foreign secretary) were markedly absent from the historic meeting at Raiwind.

Pink is the colour of the chagrin felt by former prime minister Sardar Manmohan Singh at being upstaged by his successor. Manmohan Singh had been born 83 years ago in the Punjabi village of Gah (now in Pakistan). He had long expressed a desire to visit his birthplace, lying for him on the wrong side of the border that sprang up when he was still in his teens. Throughout the 10 years of his prime ministership (2004-2014), he dithered, wavered, vacillated. Now it is too late. The BJP hare has won the race; the Congress tortoise has been left behind.

Deep pink is the mortification felt by the apparatchiks in Islamabad and in New Delhi, whose carefully sculpted policies of calibrated confrontation have been swept away, like some elaborate sandcastles, by an unexpected powerful wave.

There is no denying that Shri Modi’s sudden decision to land at Lahore airport caught Pakistanis off-guard, especially Lahoris. History has taught them though to be wary of such surprise landings. In January 1971, a re-commissioned Indian Airlines Fokker aircraft ‘Ganga’ was forced by two Kashmiri hijackers to land at Lahore airport. They surrendered, but not before blowing up the plane. Mrs Indira Gandhi’s government acted (not reacted) by banning flights by Pakistani aircraft over Indian territory as a prelude to the East Pakistan/Bangladesh conflict.

Why did Shri Modi decide to visit Lahore? Was it to emulate that historic bus yatra to Lahore by his BJP predecessor A.B. Vajpayee in February 1999? Mr Vajpayee’s yatra was dramatic, but it came as no surprise. It was the product of careful behind-the-scenes preparation and artfully managed on-the-screen optics.

Shri Modi’s decision was melodramatic, his visit more personal. He interrupted his return to New Delhi; he met and embraced Nawaz Sharif; he walked hand-in-hand with him down a red carpet; he shared a helicopter ride to the ‘ancestral home’ of the Sharifs at Raiwind (Modi suspected it is about as ancestral as Mr Zardari’s ‘ancestral’ chateau in France); he met generations of male Sharifs; he blessed the bride and congratulated her great-grandmother; he savoured a vegetarian meal prepared by cooks who must have itched (as most Punjabi cooks do) to add meat to every pot of vegetables; he handed gifts to the family; and then he returned to Lahore airport, to resume his plane yatra to New Delhi. It was a diplomatic tour de force, a decade of overdue symbolism compressed into three hours.

Shri Modi had hardly reached 7, Race Course Road, New Delhi, than his minister of external affairs, Mrs Sushma Swaraj, hailed him as a ‘statesman’. She could be forgiven for such hyperbole. One needs to be a statesman to carry off such a coup. US president Nixon told Chairman Mao as much, when they met in Beijing in equally dramatic circumstances on Feb 21, 1972: “Those on the right can do what those on the left talk about.”

It is not accidental that, after a decade of sign language, the first Indian prime minister after Vajpayee to visit Pakistan also belongs to the ultra right-wing BJP. It is not entirely accidental that the thaw in Shri Modi’s arctic attitude towards Indo-Pak relations is the result of global warming, the El Nino effect of advice from the US, Chinese and Russian leadership. Shri Modi must have seen the sense behind their ‘friendly persuasion’, heeded their advice that he needs to mend fences with his neighbours. Such a rapprochement may well be the price India is willing to pay for the coveted seat in the United Nations Security Council, where even 65-year-old resolutions on Jammu & Kashmir, like boomerangs, have a nasty way of winging back.

Was Shri Modi’s decision to stop in Lahore a spontaneous gesture? The players in this breathtaking initiative would have us believe that it was. It could have been, except that Shri Modi flew from Moscow to Kabul and then to Lahore. Where in Moscow’s GUM store or in Kabul’s bazaars does one pick up a pink Rajasthani turban? — By Fakir Aijazuddin

Leave a Reply